Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Donald L. Hollowell Papers at AARL

Donald Hollowell, Rev. Samuel Williams, head of the Atlanta NAACP, and Hamilton Holmes, at the University of Georgia. January 1961. The UGA Arch seen here is just to the left of the admissions building where Holmes and Charlayne Hunter had just become the first African American students to register at the University. Forty years later, the building would be named the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building.
Photo courtesy Donald L. Hollowell Papers, AARL Archives Division.
The Auburn Avenue Research Library’s Archives Division recently acquired Donald Hollowell’s papers, which will soon be open to the public for research. Donald Hollowell was an Atlanta attorney who practiced for over fifty years and, most notably, argued many high profile civil rights cases successfully during the 1960s. Hollowell was born in 1917 in Kansas, served in the military during World War II, and graduated law school from Loyola University in Chicago. According to University of Georgia History professor Robert Pratt’s book, We Shall Not be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Hollowell decided to set up his practice in Georgia in the 1940s, in part because he’d met his future wife Louise there, but also because there were very few African American lawyers in the South at the time, and Hollowell was interested in “using the law to break down racial barriers” (53). In 1956, Hollowell became a part of the NAACP legal team defending Horace Ward, an African American student who for years had been repeatedly denied entrance to the University of Georgia’s law school for no apparent reason other than the color of his skin.

The Ward case later grew to include two other African American students who’d been denied entrance to UGA’s undergraduate program, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes. In the 1960 complaint Hollowell and the NAACP filed on behalf of the students, he explains that the suit was being brought because the University has refused to “consider the application of Negro residents of Georgia for admission to the University of Georgia upon the same terms and conditions applicable to white applicants; and from failing and refusing to act expeditiously upon applications received from Negro applicants; and from refusing to approve the applications of qualified Negroes for admission to the University of Georgia, solely because of the race and color of such applicants.”

While Hollowell’s case files are fascinating on their own, research on Hollowell also shows that he had a compassionate, humane side that helped to make him an even better attorney. In his book, Pratt quotes Charlayne Hunter-Gault: “Hollowell was like a father figure; he was very close to my family, very avuncular, and very reassuring, always slow and deliberate in his speech. I never hesitated to call him at home, because he really felt like a family member. He always appeared to be in total control; he never panicked. He was attentive to little things, like making sure that I was eating right” (129).

Hollowell’s own papers further illuminate his humanity and concern for his clients and for people in general. Through correspondence between Hollowell and Mary Blackwell, another African American student who was admitted to UGA in 1962, the semester after Hunter and Holmes won their case, it is apparent that, for Hollowell, helping these students gain admission to college was not the end of the road. He was genuinely concerned for their well being and was willing to do whatever he could to help ensure that they would be able to graduate. Between 1963 and 1965, Hollowell corresponded with Blackwell, who, though she’d been admitted to college, was struggling to pay for her school expenses with no help from her family. Hollowell found financial help for Blackwell from a Baltimore businessman who was actively interested in civil rights cases in the South and wanted to help. Through these letters, Blackwell expresses her ongoing appreciation to Hollowell for finding her assistance, and Hollowell shows his continued support for Blackwell and his concern for her safety and success in school.

It should be noted that Mary Blackwell Diallo went on to graduate from UGA in 1966 and later received an MA from the school in 1973. Diallo is currently a professor of French at Florida A&M University. Through Hollowell’s papers, researchers will be able to gain insight into Hollowell’s case history, but also will be able to see his concern for people and what made him such a successful civil rights attorney.

-Jessica Perkins Smith, LSU MLIS graduate student, AARL Archives Intern

Diallo, Mary. “Fear was rampant.” “Celebrating Courage: 50th Anniversary of Desegregation at UGA.” Georgia Magazine. March 2011.

Pratt, Robert A. We Shall Not be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2002.


  1. This is great news and an amazing collection. Kudos, AARL!

    1. Thank you! We will encourage scholars to mine it for new civil rights narratives.