July 3, 2014

Watch This Documentary About the Civil Rights Movement in Athens

VARSITY ATHENS GEORGIA, The Varsity Hot Dog Weiner Fast Food Restaurant Athens GA..jpg

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The Varsity was the site of many civil rights protests in the 1960s.

Most people know the story of how Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter integrated the University of Georgia in 1961.

But fewer people know the tale of how Holmes and Hunter inspired a generation of Athens high school students—Robert Harrison, Charlie Maddox, Ken Dious, Carolyn Turner, Ed Turner, Bennie McKinley and Shirley Taylor, among others—to fight segregation at another local landmark.

A new, short documentary, produced by Athens native Nicole Taylor (now of Brooklyn) for the Southern Foodways Alliance, focuses on how young black Athenians integrated the Varsity.

"Those kids would go downtown and educate when the grown folks were scared to move," A.R. Killian, Athens' first black police officer, says in the film.

The young civil rights activists (along with movement veterans and friends of Martin Luther King Jr. like Miriam Moore) met at the old Athens High & Industrial School on Reese Street.

"They taught us that we couldn't fight back, even when they spit in our faces," Carolyn Turner recalls.

They chose the Varsity as their first target and started picketing. The Ku Klux Klan had its local headquarters nearby.

"On one side, the Klan was marching," Maddox recalls. "On the other side, the protesters were marching."

State and local police swept up protestors from time to time, but usually quickly released them because the city didn't want to pay to feed them, as McKinley remembers.

According to Killian, the Varsity integrated after then-police chief E.E. Hardy called off a raid, saying "integration is here," when Killian threatened to quit the force.

The moment was bittersweet for Dious.

"Once they integrated, I found out I didn't like hot dogs, personally, that well," he jokes.