As the 2021 football season kicks off at the University of Georgia, the school is remembering the first Black members to join the Bulldogs’ roster 50 years ago. A new exhibit in the Russell Building commemorates this significant time in UGA’s athletic history.
The Russell Building is a115,000-square-foot library within walking distance of Sanford Stadium. Named for Senator Richard B. Russell, the imposing Hull Street building opened in 2012 and contains a treasure trove of rare books and manuscripts as well as fascinating collections documenting state and university history.
Countless visitors pass by the stately Russell Building, but few are fully aware that important artifacts, galleries and sports memorabilia are available for viewing. In recent years, one of my favorite exhibits focused on Wally Butts, a Milledgeville native and former Morgan County football coach who led the University of Georgia football team to their 1942 National Championship title. While conducting research for a Butts story, I met Jason Hasty, athletics history specialist at the Hargrett Library. Hasty’s assistance was invaluable.
To share firsthand information about the Russell Building and the new exhibit, I posed the following questions to the sports history specialist.
Q. Jason, Athens and the University of Georgia welcome many visitors during the year but not everyone is aware that the general public can view archival exhibits at the Hargrett Library in the Russell Building. What can visitors expect to see there?
A. "Visitors to Athens are welcome in the Russell Special Collections Building. Each of our three libraries has its own museum gallery on the second floor where visitors can see exhibits that explore where Georgia’s drinking water comes from and how it gets to consumers, to hand-illuminated Medieval manuscripts and the 1980 Presidential election. Our archives are also open to the public, so any visitor is welcome to stop in at our Reference Room on the third floor to learn more about artifacts, documents, or photographs they might want to see. The Athletic Association archives are also open to anyone who might want to view historic Georgia uniforms, look at playbooks or game day programs, or explore the thousands of photos of Georgia sports that are in that collection."
Q. Your current exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of athletes of color at the university. Please tell us about this exhibit.
A. "This exhibit, ‘Not Only For Ourselves: The Integration of UGA Athletics’, tells the story of how Black athletes came to be integrated into Georgia’s sports teams. It looks especially at the five men who integrated the football team in 1971; but, also looks at the first generation of Black athletes at Georgia during the 1970s. Visitors can expect to see rarely or never seen photographs, original artifacts, and text that will tell the story of this important moment in UGA sports history."
Q. How did this exhibit come together and were there any surprises?
A. "This exhibit took several years of research to put together. My goal with each exhibit that I curate is to tell the particular story with respect and to place each subject in its proper context within the history of college athletics, but especially with a topic this complex and so important.
"I think the greatest surprise came not with anything here at Georgia, but with how uncoordinated the process of integrating athletics was during the 1960s and 1970s. The SEC provided no guidance to schools on how to handle integration, made no mandates on how to treat Black players once they were in the programs, and generally left the entire process up to the individual schools. In our time when the individual conferences work to coordinate the response of their member institutions to different situations, such as we saw last year with how each conference led the way for their member schools in dealing with COVID, this hands-off approach seems to have inhibited rather than helped schools to integrate.
"In addition to looking at the first five Black football players (Horace King, Richard Appleby, Larry West, Clarence Pope, and Chuck Kinnebrew), this exhibit will explore the other Black athletes who integrated Georgia sports, like Ronnie Hogue. It will also look at ‘Clegg’ Starks and ‘Squab’ Jones, two Black men who worked with the team for decades starting in the 1910s and who may be remembered by older fans."
Q. Tell us about visiting the Russell Building and viewing the special UGA football exhibit about Black athletes.
A. "The exhibit is self-guided and there is no need for a reservation to come in and view it. It’s also free to the public. On Fridays when Georgia is playing a home game, I will give a guided tour of the exhibit at 3 p.m. and reservations are not needed. Also, tours are held in the Rotunda Gallery on the second floor of the Russell Special Collections Building. Any Georgia fan can come in to look at all the archives and I’m always happy to help someone find things they might want to see. People can also reach out to our website or contact me at hasty@uga. edu for questions about UGA sports history or help in finding things in the archives."
IF YOU GO:
Russell Building Special Collections Libraries
300 South Hull St.
Athens, GA 30602
HOURS: Mon-Fri, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday 1-5 p.m.
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Story by Hank Segars, photos courtesy of UGA Hargrett Library, Special Collections, as published in the September/October 2021 issue of Lakelife magazine.