On January 6, 1961, United States District Judge William Augustus Bootle granted a permanent injunction that required the University of Georgia to admit its first two black students, Hamilton E. Holmes and Charlayne A. Hunter. The backlash began immediately. Newspaper editorials condemned the decision. The Governor of Georgia threatened to close the University. Students rioted. A man escaped from an insane asylum, armed himself and went looking for Charlayne Hunter at her dormitory. Judge Bootle received numerous critical letters, including some that were threatening. Yet Judge Bootle’s attitude was that he did no more than what his position as a judge required him to do. Late in his life, he sat for an interview as part of the Foot Soldier Project or Civil Rights Studies at the University of Georgia. He summed up his actions and motivations by saying: “You can’t afford to flinch in the face of duty. . . . [I]t just happened to happen on my watch. I don’t deserve any credit. Don’t seek any. I did what any self-respecting honest judge would have done.”
This Article tells the story of the desegregation of the University of Georgia from Judge Bootle’s perspective. Several fine books describe the events largely through the eyes of Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter, and those are inspiring stories of bravery and perseverance. But there are important lessons to be learned by examining Judge Bootle’s role. Not every judge could have or would have made the decisions that Judge Bootle made. It made a difference that these events just happened to occur on Judge Bootle’s watch.
The Article begins with a brief discussion of the specific events that led Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes to apply to the University of Georgia and then eventually to file suit in Judge Bootle’s court. It then gives a brief background of Judge Bootle, including his upbringing in rural South Carolina and Georgia, his attendance at Mercer University, his career as a lawyer, and his appointment to the federal bench. The Article next examines the proceedings that led to Judge Bootle’s order to admit Holmes and Hunter to UGA, followed by a discussion of the tumultuous events of the next few days and Judge Bootle’s reactions to them. Then, to bring some context to the courage it took for Judge Bootle to enter the order, the Article describes the contents of the files that Judge Bootle kept regarding the reactions to this decision. The Article concludes with a brief discussion of Judge Bootle’s handling of the University of Georgia case as matter of judicial craft.
Patrick Emery Longan, “You Can’t Afford to Flinch in the Face of Duty”: Judge William Augustus Bootle and the Desegregation of the University of Georgia, 48 Stetson L. Rev. 379 (2019).