Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

PAUL KEA

A TIME OF CHANGE
A Dublin Man's Role in a Moment of History


Forty five years ago today the faces of students at the University of Georgia changed forever.  In the midst of a political turmoil and mercifully without the infliction of violent attacks, two African-American students entered the halls of the University of Georgia.  There to make sure the process was completed was a former Adrian and Dublin man, who was the Assistant Registrar of the University of Georgia.   This is the story of Paul Kea and his role in one of the most momentous moments in Georgia History, the integration of the University of Georgia.

For a hundred and sixty five years every student attending the University of Georgia was white.  For that matter, every educational institution in the entire state was segregated.  In the early years of the state, colleges and universities were segregated between the sexes.  With the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education, it was only a matter of time before admission to the University of Georgia could not be conditioned upon the race of the applicant.  Beginning in 1943 under a grant in aid program, Georgia paid the surpluses of out of state colleges and universities over state institutions to Negro students attending school outside the state.

The first attempt to integrate the University of Georgia came in 1957 when Horace Ward's law suit was thrown out of court.  Charlayne Hunter, an outstanding student at Atlanta's Turner High School, was approached by black Atlanta civic leaders to challenge the University of Georgia's ban on black students.  She joined classmate Hamilton Holmes in applying for admission for the year 1959-60.  Both were turned down.  Hunter enrolled in Wayne State College in Michigan and Holmes attended nearby Morehouse College.  

Beginning in 1959 the University hired Paul Kea as the Assistant Registrar and Assistant Director of Admissions.   Paul Randolph Kea was born on September 5, 1925 in Adrian, Georgia.  The youngest child of Fitzhugh Lillian Kea and Dora Vivian Proctor, Paul Kea attended school in Adrian.  His oldest half brother, Morris Dawson Kea, was Laurens County's longest serving attorney.  His family lived on Railroad Street.  His parents worked day and night to help the family through the depths of the depression.  Paul worked in his father's grocery store. The Kea house was always filled with music.  Mrs. Kea taught music to the kids of Adrian.  In the late spring and during the summer Paul enjoyed swimming in the refreshing waters of the Ohoopee River near Captain James's well.   He wrote passionate and reminiscent poems about his coming of age in the then sleepy village, once a bustling railroad center.

Paul Kea served his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  After the war, he returned home to Dublin, where he worked as a staff announcer at radio station WMLT.  While in Dublin, Kea, a talented writer in his own right, taught English in the Laurens County School system.  He later taught in Clarke and Oglethorpe counties as well as in the city system of Jefferson, Georgia.  

Both Hunter and Holmes continued to make applications for admission on a quarterly basis. Each time they were turned down.  Holmes underwent an oral interview by Registrar Walter Danner, Director of Admissions Morris Phelps and Kea.    On the basis of hearsay information transmitted to him through Danner, Kea quizzed Holmes about his criminal record.   Holmes denied any guilt and without proof of the allegation, Kea dropped the matter.   The officials asked Holmes if he had attended interracial parties or patronized beatnik joints.  Based on the results of their interview, Holmes was turned down again for admission in the fall of 1960.  The interview with Hunter went more smoothly.  Though declining her admission in the fall, Kea and Danner did not discount her possible acceptance at a later date as the student body had reached its limit.

With the aid of out of state attorneys, Hunter and Holmes filed a suit in Federal court seeking immediate admission to the university.  When Federal marshals could not find Registrar Danner to serve the lawsuit, Paul Kea was added as a defendant.  Kea was served as a university official and as an individual defendant.   A hearing on their claim was postponed from September to mid December.  State Attorney General Eugene Cook, a former resident of Dublin and Wrightsville and a proponent of segregation, represented the State of Georgia.   The matter was heard by Federal District Court Judge W.A. Bootle.

One of the first witnesses called to the stand was Paul Kea.  Kea was grilled by the plaintiff's attorneys on the standards for admission.  One letter after another and totaling near a hundred were shown to Kea for identification.  Many of them related to letters by white students, who were denied admission in 1960, but were instructed to reapply or were advised to enroll in other state colleges for later admission to the university.  Nearly three weeks later on January 6, 1961, Judge Bootle ordered university registrars to admit both Hunter and Holmes.

The university's first black students arrived in Athens on January 9, 1961.  As they entered the registrar's office they were taunted and jeered.  Inside the front door, they were met by Kea who processed their paperwork without delay.  Though their first days were violence free, a minor altercation arose two days later outside Hunter's dormitory.  Athens police restored order and both Hunter and Holmes were suspended from the school and escorted back to their homes in Atlanta for their own safety.  The duo were reinstated a few days later and seemingly all enmity died away.

Charlayne Hunter, who did build some lasting friendships with fellow students,  graduated in 1963 with a degree in journalism.  Hunter became a world renown journalist with the New York Times and a television journalist on the MacNeil Lehrer on PBS and a bureau chief for CNN.   Hamilton Holmes graduated the same year with a degree in science. He became the first African-American student to attend the medical school at Emory University. Holmes, an orthopedic surgeon, died in 1995.  At his death, he was the Associate Dean of the  Emory University School of Medicine.

In 1968, Paul Kea was promoted to the co-ordinator of Continuing Education Programs at the College of Education.  He served in that position for 27 years until his untimely death at the age of 58 on June 12, 1984.  He is buried in Northview Cemetery in Dublin.

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