NOTE TO TEACHERS
Millions of people know Charlayne Hunter-Gault as the award-winning correspondent for the McNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. But Hunter-Gault was making history long before she was reporting it. In 1961 Charlayne Hunter, then 19, became the first Black woman to desegregate the University of Georgia; when she walked onto the Athens campus, past a jeering mob of white students, she was taking one of the first steps in a massive realignment of American society.
In My Place is at once Hunter-Gault's account of her role in the Civil Rights movement and the story of the childhood that prepared her for it. That childhood was in many ways ordinary, if we remember that the ordinary lives of African-American children in the South of the 1940s and '50s included daily encounters with institutionalized racism. What Hunter-Gault achieves in this extraordinary memoir is to convey the omnipresent, daily textures of racism, and the strength and vitality of the Black culture that defied and transcended racism's seemingly unalterable codes.
In My Place is a book about sit-ins, marches, court battles, and riots, but it is primarily a book about values—about the daily sustenance provided by Black churches, Black teachers, and Black families. And it is also the story a girl who dreamed of being a reporter like the comic-strip character Brenda Starr at a time when realizing such a dream was beyond the reach of most Black children. One of the things that Hunter-Gault tells us about the generation that spearheaded desegregation is that "we were simply doing what we were born and raised to do" . By showing how her upbringing prepared her for her long walk across America's racial divide, and by making that achievement seem natural and almost inevitable, Hunter-Gault demonstrates that history is always human, however permanent and strong the barriers to the realization of a common humanity may appear to be.
The questions, exercises and assigments that follow are designed to guide your students through In My Place and to provoke them to consider its historical background and implications at greater length. It is divided into sections that test reading comprehension, build vocabulary, teach independent research and writing skills, and invite class debate. Students should be encouraged to keep journals in which they record their responses to the work, pose questions to the teacher, and take notes for written assignments. Because the material varies in sophistication, we encourage you to tailor your presentation according to your students' abilities and needs. Race and racism remain charged issues throughout American society. We hope that this guide will provide you and your class with a forum in which you can discuss them candidly in a historically and biographically grounded way.
In My Place is the story of a young girl's entry into the Civil Rights movement—a movement that permanently changed the status of Black people in America and altered the very structure of our society. Many of the questions below concern the critical events and personalities of that movement. But it would be useful to begin your class reading with a historical overview. You may want to rent the PBS-TV documentary "Eyes on the Prize" for in-class viewing or read Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters. Have a group of your students prepare a chronology of the Civil Rights movement and run off copies for the class to refer to during the discussion. Have your students pay attention to what Hunter-Gault so matter-of-factly tells us about the daily experience of African-Americans in the segregated South: What was it like to be forbidden to vote? To be allowed to drink only from a water-fountain that was labeled "Colored"? To have your teeth pulled by a white dentist who was too lazy to give you proper treatment? To know that if your young daughter attracted the attention of a white man, there was almost nothing you could do to protect her? These were the realities of the world into which Charlayne Hunter was born, and they helped shape the path she was to take.
DISCUSSION AND WRITING
1. For what "routine exercise" did the author become famous?
2. What legal decision made it possible for Hunter-Gault to attend the University of Georgia?
3. What organizations helped secure her admission?
4. What personal factors helped the author fulfill her role in history? What values did her family instill in her, and how?
5. As a child, what did Charlayne admire about her mother?
6. What jobs could Black people get in Due West?
7. What did Charlayne Hunter's father do for a living?
8. In what ways did America's entry into World War II improve the lives of Black people in the South?
9. Why did Charlayne Hunter's grandmother send her daughter to live in Chicago? Why would she have been unable to protect her from a white man's advances?
10. What two enemies did African-Americans serving in the U.S. armed forces have to fight?
11. What do the stories of the author's maternal great-grandparents tell us about Black-white relations in the pre-integration South?
12. Why did so many African-Americans migrate North?
13. How did African-Americans practice discrimination among themselves? How did this affect Charlayne as a child?
14. Describe conditions in the schools the author attended as a child in Covington.
15. How did the Black community try to improve its schools in the years before integration?
16. Why did Charlayne's paternal grandfather place such a high value on education?
17. What effect did the Korean War have on the Hunter family? What was the role of Black soldiers in that war, and how might their experiences have affected their view of the American racial system?
18. How was Atlanta different from Covington? What kinds of opportunities and institutions did it offer its Black citizens?
19. Describe the different positions taken by W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington and suggest how they were reflected in Civil Rights movement sixty years later.
20. How did racism affect housing in Atlanta?
21. What was a "Race Man"?
22. How was Black history taught in the schools Charlayne attended?
23. How did she end up losing so many of her teeth while she was still a child?
24. How did Black educators greet the Brown decision, and what effects did they anticipate it would have on their careers?
25. Describe the status of the Black community in Alaska. How did it differ from those in the South? What special problems afflicted Black soldiers stationed in Anchorage?
26. When Charlayne Hunter moved to Alaska, she entered what she calls her "father's world."  How was that world different from her mother's?
27. What made some African-Americans reluctant to take part in the campaign for integration?
28. How did the University of Georgia justify its initial refusal to accept Hunter and Hamilton Holmes as students?
29. What new racial circumstances did the author encounter as a student at Wayne State University? What subtler form of discrimination was practiced at that nominally integrated college?
30. What was a sit-in? Where were sit-ins first practiced?
31. Summarize the "Appeal for Human Rights."
32. Why was Hunter unable to participate in the demonstrations that took place during the summer of 1960?
33. Explain the phrase "keep our eyes on the prize" .
34. Why did the organizers of the Atlanta sit-ins choose to go to jail and, in some cases, refuse bond? How did their actions affect both the city's Black community and its white power structure?
35. What strategies did Hunter's attorneys use to prove that the university was lying about its reasons for barring their client?
36. Explain the usage and meaning of the slogan, "Wear old clothes for dignity."
37. What extralegal means did Georgia's government—and private citizens—take to keep Hunter and Holmes out of the university?
38. What symbolic action did segregationists take against Hunter on her first day at the University of Georgia? Explain its origins and significance.
39. Why was the University of Georgia such an integral institution of white privilege and dominance?
40. Why did Hunter see her suspension as a personal failure?
41. What meaning do you find in the fact that the riots that greeted Hunter were organized by white law students?
42. How were the riot's instigators punished? How did those penalties compare to those meted out to peaceful Black demonstrators in Atlanta?
43. What was the "suit of armor" that enabled Hunter to bear up under the pressure of her first weeks at the university?
44. What allies did the author find among white students and faculty?
45. What was Kristallnacht? What comparison is Hunter drawing between die-hard segregationists and Nazis in Germany?
46. Describe how the Civil Rights movement escalated while Hunter was a student at the University of Georgia.
47. Although Hunter was by now officially accepted as a student at the Univeristy of Georgia, she still faced other forms of discrimination there. What were these, and how did she and her lawyers confront them?
48. Why was turning 18 such a milestone for Black students?
49. How did the persistence of segregation affect America's image abroad?
50. Who were the Freedom Riders? What dangers did they face in their campaign to integrate the South?
51. What difficulties did Hunter encounter when she began her journalistic apprenticeship? What kind of attention did the news media then devote to Black life?
52. What did Hamilton Holmes feel that he had to prove at the University of Georgia? How did his attitude differ from Hunter's?
53. What was the nature of the South's "historic fear of the Black male"? Explain what Hunter-Gault means by "turnabout as fair play" .
54. Explain the significance of the slogan "Never, no never."
55. Describe Hunter's relationship with Walter Stovall. Why was it so threatening to both Blacks and whites? In what way did their decision to marry embody a "segregationist's nightmare" ?
56. How did Hunter's participation in the Civil Rights movement benefit her? In what ways was her fame oppressive?
57. Why did Black children named Kerry, Karen, and Kent change their names to Kwasi, Kinshasa and Kwame? How does that change of names symbolize a change in the attitudes of African-Americans?
58. What was the occasion for the address that forms the book's final chapter? What does it say about changes at the University of Georgia?
59. What things does Hunter-Gault find to celebrate about the South? In what ways does she remain critical?
60. What meaning does she ascribe to the phrase the "majesty of local law" ? What did it mean to her during her time at the University of Georgia?
61. Why is she afraid that America is backing away from the social commitments and changes initiated in the 1960s?
For in-class discussion
1. In addition to being the story of an African-American, In My Place is also the story of an African-American woman. In what ways might Charlayne Hunter's story have been different had she been born male? What role did sexism, as well as racism, play in her childhood and adolescence?
2. In her prologue, Hunter-Gault writes that "we won the right that should have been ours all along." Identify that right and describe the processes that denied it to earlier generations of African-Americans.
3. What were the broader repercussions of the integration of the University of Georgia? How did the presence of two Black students on a formerly all-white college campus end an era of American history?
4. Why does the author capitalize the phrase "Civil Rights Revolution"? Look up the dictionary definition of "revolution." In what ways did the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s conform to that definition?
5. Hunter-Gault maintains that the actual integration of the University of Georgia is only part of a "larger story," by which she means the upbringing that prepared her for her historic mission. Point to instances in the author's childhood that seem to have readied her for this task, and explain why that story might in fact be the more important one in the book.
6. Describe the role of Black churches and clergymen in the segregated South. How did they figure in the civil rights movement?
7. When Charlayne was barred from attending a club for the children of army officers, [96-7] her father told her: "You have to let these people know who you are. You can't let them deny you, and I won't let them deny you or me." What do you think those words mean? How does bigotry affect people individually as well as collectively? In what instances have you been personally affected by social inequalities, and how did these instances shape the way you saw yourself—and perhaps see yourself today?
8. In Chapter 12 Hunter-Gault declares that the system of segregation had been "designed to keep us in our place and convince us, somehow, that it was our fault, as well as our destiny" . In what ways were African-Americans conditioned to see themselves as inferior and unworthy?
9. On page 172 Hunter-Gault writes that her entry into the University of Georgia presented white Southerners with their greatest crisis "since Sherman marched to the sea," and Black Southerners with "their most liberating moment since the Emancipation Proclamation." Discuss her use of these phrases.
10. When Hunter-Gault was first asked how she felt about her violent reception at the University of Georgia, she replied: "A lot of people don't know about other people. And a part of a lot of this is that people don't know enough about one another." What do you think she accomplishes by saying it in this way? What is she forcing the reader to understand about racism by using these words?
Look up definitions for the following words, then use them in your written work:
6. coup de grace
21. restraining order
26. alma mater
27. stay (legal usage)
BEYOND THE BOOK
For further study and writing (Research)
1. Before decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education, there was no apparent legal basis for Black claims to equality, no law that affirmed that African-Americans were entitled to the same rights as whites. How, then, did the lawyers and activists of the civil rights movement justify their appeals? Do you see other social movements in a position similar to that occupied by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, or other groups whose present disenfranchisment mirrors that of African-Americans thirty years ago? If you were representing one of these groups in a court of law, how would you phrase your argument on their behalf?
2. Throughout her book, Charlayne Hunter-Gault explores the notion of place. In the pre-integration South, African-Americans were expected to stay in "their place"; she sees the struggle for Civil Rights in part as the act of "daring to define our place irrespective of white wishes or demands." At the book's climax, she describes the University of Georgia as "our place." What does the author mean by "place"?
3. Identify three of the following people, events, places, and institutions, using your own independent research to explain their significance in the history of race relations in the U.S.: a) Jim Crow laws b) the Ku Klux Klan c) the Great Migration d) the African Methodist Episcopal Church e) Martin Luther King f) W.E.B. Du Bois g) Booker T. Washington h) Emmett Till i) the sit-in movement j) Whitney M. Young k) the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights l) the N.A.A.C.P. m) the Montgomery bus boycott m) Donald Hollowell n) Constance Baker Motley o) Carl Holman p) Thurgood Marshall q) C.O.R.E r) James Meredith s) Ross Barnett
4. Throughout the book, the author is keenly aware of her roots, and the early chapters are filled with stories about her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Draw up the Hunter family tree on the basis of the information that she supplies and suggest what influences and lessons she absorbed from different family members. Draw up a tree of your own family, telling relevant stories about its members. How have you been shaped by your family's history and lore?
5. The struggle for racial justice took place in different ways and in a number of different arenas: housing, education, medical care, employment, the military, and the law. Choose one of these for research, showing what conditions were like for African-Americans in the 1950s and how they have changed in the years since integration.
6. There is a saying that "the personal is political." Cite three episodes from In My Place that demonstrate that statement's validity. In what ways has your own life been affected by larger social and political issues?
7. In Chapter 14 the author quotes from an article in the Anderson Independent that seems subtly biased against the Black plaintiffs in the case against the University of Georgia. What reveals the newspaper's bias? Find a story concerning race in a recent newspaper and determine whether the article contains language that indicates racial bias. Make your argument citing specific turns of phrase, omissions, or loaded images. If the article is free from bias, find a place in the story where the author has avoided falling into the traditional habits of racial stereotyping.
8. In her 1988 address to the graduating class of the University of Georgia, Hunter-Gault describes the relationship between Black and white Southerners in the following way: "For centuries, we shared a world of courtesy and difference established on utter tragedy." What is the "tragedy" Hunter-Gault is referring to? Why does she use that word?
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
This teacher's guide was written by Peter Trachtenberg. Peter Trachtenberg has taught writing and literature at the New York University School of Continuing Education, the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Education, and the School of Visual Arts.
Copyright © 1995 by VINTAGE BOOKS
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