Desegregation, Activism and a New Direction


Students P resident Van Leer didn't live to see the first women graduate from Tech in 1956; in June, Michel and Mewborn received their degrees from acting President Paul Weber. A new president, Edwin D. Harrison, inherited the mantle in 1957, and his administration would see the next major milestone in Tech's history - racial desegregation.

At Georgia Tech, the issue first erupted in 1956. After an 8-1-1 season, Bobby Dodd and the Jackets were invited to the Sugar Bowl to play Pittsburgh, which had a black starting fullback. Griffin sent a wire to the Board of Regents, trying to prevent the game. "The South stands at Armageddon," it said.

"The students organized a protest," Mewborn said. "They gathered in Peters Park about dusk and hung the governor in effigy. We weren't unruly; we just said this is not right." The students then marched to the state Capitol.

Tech went to the Sugar Bowl and defeated Pittsburgh 7-0, ironically scoring the only touchdown after a penalty against the black player, Bob Grier.

Five years later, Georgia Tech would enroll its first three black students. They were volatile years in the state. For example, in January 1961, a federal judge in Macon ordered the University of Georgia to enroll two black students; riots broke out, prompting Tech President Harrison to call a meeting of students to address the issue.

"You people seem to have been born into a time of crisis," Harrison told the 2,000 students attending. "There isn't much you as individuals are going to be able to do except learn to live with crises, because apparently we are going to have them for a good many years yet in this world."

Harrison recruited former Dean of Students Jim Dull "to be in charge of the peaceful integration of Georgia Tech," Dull remembered.

After developing an "emergency plan," Dull said the administration identified three black students with the necessary qualifications, met with them and Atlanta's black leadership, and enrolled Ralph Long Jr., Ford Greene and Lawrence Williams.

"The day we did it, the Ku Klux Klan came over to Georgia Tech, and they marched up North Avenue as far as the YMCA and back to Techwood," Dull said. "And that was it; they left after staying just long enough to get their pictures taken."

Current Tech President Wayne Clough, a civil engineering student at the time, cited a number of factors he thought contributed to the peaceful integration: an already diverse student body, a location at the heart of a city at the heart of the civil rights movement, and some experience with the trauma of change after women were admitted.

"Atlanta was going through its own changes at that time, and it billed itself as "The City Too Busy To Hate," said Clough, CE 64, MS CE 65. "I think Georgia Tech was like that. It was an institution whose students and faculty were just too busy to even be concerned about something where the color of a person's skin was a factor." Alumnus photographer Deloye Burrell, a student at the time, remembered integration as a non-event, except that several news cameras had been pointed at the Tech campus from across North Avenue.

"This one guy from a TV station came scooting across when the police weren't looking. He handed five bucks to everybody he could get to and said, 'Look, I'm on deadline. You've got to do something for me.' He went back across, and on the count of three, everybody turned around, waved at the camera and said, 'Hi, mom.' Then we called security so he couldn't come over and get his five bucks back."

Homecoming Although black students had enrolled successfully, Ralph Long said he felt they didn't enjoy some of the support infrastructure white students did such as fraternity test files - the bits of "underground" information, or "word," helpful in a tough academic environment.

"Those are the kinds of things that really hurt us," Long said. "We didn't have very many altercations." In time, the Institute learned more about different needs for different people and improved opportunities for minorities. "I've seen tremendous change, and Tech is doing a good job," Long said. "Tech has always been somewhat fair about a lot of things, a lot more aggressive than other schools."

In his inaugural speech in 1969, Arthur G. Hansen, Georgia Tech's seventh president, enumerated what he saw as the challenges facing America's universities. The first he termed "The Challenge of a Worried World," a world "restless and searching its soul for meaning." Across the country, campuses were raked by ardent, sometimes violent protests. The decaying environment, unequal rights, academic "irrelevance," the war in Vietnam especially-all were targets for demonstrations. Hippies, Yippies, Panthers (gray and black), joiners of every stripe, from the sincere to the silly, prodded teachers, administrators and police for action.

At Georgia Tech, though, things were a bit different. Sure, there was the burning of the Blueprint for somewhat obscure reasons. But for the most part, Tech remained a relative oasis in the shifting sands of the '60s. When the 1970 invasion of Cambodia sparked explosive demonstrations - even at MIT, Stanford and other technological institutions where military research became a focus, and at Kent State, where four students were killed by National Guardsmen - Tech remained unshaken, pausing only for a quietly dignified memorial.

"These were very, very conservative students," Dean Dull said. "It came; it went, and it was very nice, very quiet - and everybody just went home."

It's not that Tech students had no causes for activism. For example, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, students called for Tech to take steps to improve the blighted neighborhoods of Atlanta. Rather than raucous protest, as Georgia Tech Alumnus editor Bob Wallace put it, "they simply decided to petition their grievances through channels." During the controversies of the '60s and early '70s, the Tech campus underwent considerable physical change, as well as social change. At one point in 1967, more than $13 million in new construction was under way, with even more on the drawing board. By 1980, the campus covered more than 300 acres with some 120 buildings and more to come.

Students helps out Soon, a significant change for the state and Georgia Tech appeared on the horizon. The shortages and recessions of the '70s created an impetus for new directions in building the region's economy, attitudes reflected in later years by the clamor for "clean industry" and high technology business.

In a 1978 article in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, the Alumni Association's Committee of Twenty promoted the idea of technology business development. Citing the amount and variety of research ongoing at Tech - which had flourished under President Joseph M. Pettit - John Hayes, IE 70, said the opportunity existed to transfer much of the research to private industry for development. The plan called for establishing a group of experts to provide technical assistance, finding sources of venture capital and creating an incubator building on the Tech campus. Work on creating the Advanced Technology Development Center, one manifestation of the new direction, showed up in the magazine in 1981. Promoted by President Pettit, who had experience with similar development in Silicon Valley, and Gov. George Busbee, the $5 million center was becoming reality.

"What we are trying to do here is accelerate a process that we think will take place anyway," Pettit said. So they did. In a short time other pieces, such as the Microelectronics Research Center, were added.

High-tech business did start moving into the area, and fewer Tech graduates were leaving the state to find those kinds of jobs.

Too Busy to Hate

I van Allen Jr., Com 33, served as mayor of Atlanta from 1962 to 1970, leading the city through a period of progress and racial adjustment with such success that Atlanta's sobriquet became "the city too busy to hate."

Allen's initiatives spurred economic growth and cultural development. His dialogues with Martin Luther King Jr. helped keep Atlanta calm during turbulent times. And during Allen's term, Atlanta became a major league city with the arrival of the Atlanta Braves.




Seven Sons of Tech

Mrs. Ziegler M rs. Elizabeth Ziegler sent seven sons through Tech through her own efforts. For this contribution, Mrs. Ziegler was elected an honorary alumna of Tech at Homecoming this year. Mrs. Ziegler's sons all received degrees in their chosen field. All were present: Dr. W.T. Ziegler, ChE 32, Regents Professor of Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech; C.W. Ziegler, ME 35; W.F. Ziegler, TE 39; W.H. Ziegler, ME 40; W.R. Ziegler, IM 41; John M. Ziegler, ME 49; F.R. Ziegler, IM 50.




Purloining the "T"

T T he most visible prank at Tech is stealing the "T" from the word TECH on the tower. Usually, the stolen "T" has been presented to presidents, professors or coaches, who have had it returned to its perch.

In 1969, fraternity brothers billing themselves the "Super Seven" coordinated an elaborate theft of the "T." "How We Purloined the Letter," published in the May/June Alumnus, explained how they scaled the tower, thwarted campus police and lowered the 80-pound letter to a waiting getaway car.

Stealing the "T" has become such a integral part of Tech lore that one fraternity detailed plans for the crime to the library for posterity.




Atomic Tech

T he Nuclear Age dawned at Georgia Tech just days after President Edwin Harrison assumed office, and the atom smashing continued for more than three decades at the $4.5 million Neeley Nuclear Research Center.

Although graduate students had been studying nuclear science since 1955, it was a $2.5 million pledge from Gov. Marvin Griffin in 1957 that ensured Tech would enjoy the greatest tool for studying the tiniest matter. Two years later, the National Science Foundation added $750,000, The reactor became reality on New Year's Eve 1964 when researchers hoisted the uranium 235 fuel rods into place, and it achieved critical mass.

Research at the 1,000-kilowatt reactor went on until 1996, when it was shut down, never to run again, amid fears of terrorist attack during the Olympics.




Campus in Flames (Pass the Mustard)


Burning Books
T ech's claim to '60s campus protest probably reached its peak with the reprisal of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." students burned the '69 Blueprint for reasons, according to the July-August Alumnus, ranging from "they left out the color section" to "it seemed to me to be a subtle attempt to push social integration." At least one Tech student, practical as always, used the coals to roast a hotdog.