Born on February 27, 1942, in Due West, South Carolina, Charlayne Hunter-Gault spent the majority of her childhood in Georgia, where, in 1961, she became the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Georgia, as well as one of the first two African-American students to integrate the school. After graduating, Hunter-Gault became an esteemed, award-winning journalist and correspondent, working for media outlets such as the New York Times, PBS and NPR.
Charlayne Hunter was born on February 27, 1942, in Due West, South Carolina. Her family was often on the move, due to her father's work as an army chaplain, but she and her two younger brothers mainly grew up in Georgia.
As a child, Hunter admired the comic strip Brenda Starr, about a reporter with an adventure-filled life. Later, she decided to study journalism in college, in the hopes of having an exciting career of her own. As an African-American student, however, her college options in the South were limited.
Civil rights activists who wanted to integrate all-white Southern colleges approached Hunter—who had been ranked third in her class at her Atlanta high school—to be a test case. The team had thought to start with a state school located in Atlanta, but Hunter wanted to go to the University of Georgia at Athens, which had a good journalism program.
Hunter's 1959 request for admission was denied due to the university's claim that it had "limited space." While a legal team, whose members included Vernon Jordan, filed suit, Hunter studied at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Then a court ruling came: In January 1961, Hunter—along with her high school classmate, Hamilton Holmes—would be allowed to enroll at the University of Georgia. Holmes and Hunter thus became the first two African-American students to integrate the school, with Hunter becoming the first African-American woman to enroll there.
At the school, Hunter and Hamilton registered for classes amid shouts of protest. A few days later, Hunter's dorm was surrounded by a 1,000-strong crowd that threw firecrackers, bottles and bricks at her window. Though state troopers delayed in responding to a call for help from local police, the crowd was eventually dispersed.
Citing safety concerns, the university suspended Hunter and Holmes from school, which prompted more than 300 faculty members to sign a resolution in support of the two students' return. Another court order was required for the school to readmit the pair. Hunter felt that the entire experience helped mold her future career in journalism, as she learned from the reporters, such as Calvin Trillin, who covered her story.
Though she was isolated from her fellow students for the remainder of her time at college—segregation made going to the movies or eating in a restaurant together impossible—Hunter made some white friends on campus. She married Walter Stovall, a fellow journalism student, before graduating with a journalism degree in 1963.
Building a Career
After graduation, Hunter went to work at The New Yorker, where she handled administrative tasks while also writing for the magazine. In 1968, she became reporter for the New York Times, going on to head its Harlem bureau. She also got the paper to stop using the word "Negro" in reference to African Americans.
Hunter and Stovall amicably divorced after a few years of marriage. She wed Ronald Gault, an investment banker, in 1971, thus becoming Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Hunter-Gault moved to PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1978, and stayed with program when it became the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in 1983.
While at PBS, Hunter-Gault covered both national and international stories as a correspondent. However, she became frustrated with the network. In addition to her work on MacNeil/Lehrer, Hunter-Gault hosted her own show, a human rights-focused series called Rights & Wrongs, but the program did not receive national distribution on PBS.
Hunter-Gault became the African bureau chief for NPR in 1997, relocating to Johannesburg, South Africa. After working as the Johannesburg bureau chief for CNN from 1999 to 2005, she returned to NPR. In addition to her reporting career, Hunter-Gault and her second husband produce wine—for a label called Passages—that is exported from South Africa to the U.S. market.
In 1988, Hunter-Gault became the first African American to give the University of Georgia's commencement address. She has written books about her experience with integration and civil rights: the memoir In My Place (1992) and To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement (2012). She also authored New News Out of Africa (2006), about developments in a changing Africa. The accolades Hunter-Gault has received during her career include George Foster Peabody Broadcast Awards and national news and documentary Emmy Awards.
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