The third week of September, 1970, saw a momentous few days for me.
I turned 18 on Sept. 22. The next day, the Carl Sanders gubernatorial campaign I’d worked on for the previous four months ended with a runoff loss to future President Jimmy Carter.
And, bright and early the next morning, on Sept. 24, 1970, I began my freshman year at the University of Georgia.
Recently, the impending 50th anniversary of the start of my college days prompted me to do a little time-traveling via the digital archive of The Red & Black, the student newspaper, as well as trading email and Facebook reminiscences with other UGA alums whose time on campus began that fall quarter.
Obviously, a lot has changed in half a century. The UGA where I matriculated in 1970 was a considerably smaller, more parochial, much less diverse campus, located in a city that was a little over a third the population it is now. The university’s computer center was proud to boast that it had in operation “an IBM/360 model 65, an IBM 7094, two IBM l40i 1s, an iBM 1620, and an IBM 1130. These processors are attached a variety of peripheral devices, including tape drives, disks, drums, data cells, and 45 remote terminals.”
And, for your personal use, you could buy a calculator that weighed 3.5 pounds for a mere $395 at one of the local shops.
The university, headed by President Fred C. Davison, consisted of 13 schools and colleges, the newest of which was the School of Environmental Design, established in 1969. The average salary for a full professor at UGA that school year was $18,050. (In 2019, it was $130,000.) Former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk arrived on campus as a professor of international law that quarter.
I was one of 2,486 freshmen who enrolled that fall (when UGA still was on the quarter system, rather than semesters), though the class grew to 3,238 by the end of the academic year. Of those, 107 students were, like me, from Athens High School, the single largest source of UGA freshmen. Second was Lakeside High in DeKalb County, which produced 53 UGA freshmen. Total UGA enrollment that year was 18,286, with 14,189 from Georgia and 359 foreign students.
The student body was 60.1% male, and, during that fall quarter, The Red & Black reported on discrimination against women at UGA, noting that female applicants had to have a higher GPA in high school, higher class ranking and higher SAT scores to get into the university. A UGA admissions official denied it was discrimination, though, explaining that the requirements for the genders differed because “girls make better grades in high school.” He added that, if they didn’t have different standards, UGA conceivably could become a predominantly female school. (I wonder what he’d think of today’s UGA student body, which is 57 percent female.)
Women also had to attend more hours of P.E. than men (a holdover from the era when ROTC was required for men, which it no longer was by 1970).
However, Deanie Fincher recalls “staying out later than my sister Martha had the year before.” She’s correct; in a change that year, only first-quarter freshman women had a curfew (1 a.m. on weeknights and weekends).
The UGA student body’s gender consciousness hadn’t yet been fully raised, however. Weekly “powder-puff” football games were staged, featuring women’s teams from various dorms and sororities, such as the Brumby Bunnies, playing against a male team dubbed the “Russell Rapers.”
This also was pre-Roe v. Wade, and having a legal abortion in Georgia required a woman to jump through so many medical hoops that, for all practical purposes, they weren’t available to most students. The university’s Health Service, which reported about 500 unwanted pregnancies per year at UGA, provided counseling for those seeking legal abortions, which usually meant going out of state, mostly to New York, New Mexico or California, where legal abortions were much more readily available.
As for minority students, the UGA Fact Book for 1970 doesn’t bother to note how many of them were on campus that school year, but The Red & Black reported 100 Black students had been accepted for the 1970 school year, and half that many were expected to enroll.
So, yeah, you largely saw white faces on campus, except in one corner of the Bulldog Room in Memorial Hall, where many of the Black students gathered between classes.
There were only three Black athletes on scholarship at UGA that quarter, The Red & Black reported, with the most notable being Ronnie Hogue of the basketball team, the first Black athlete to receive a full athletic scholarship. The first Black athlete offered a football grant-in-aid by UGA, John King, decided to go to Minnesota instead in 1970. So, integration of the football team wouldn’t happen until 1971, although one Black player, James Hurley, had walked on during spring practice in 1970. However, before the fall season arrived, he had transferred to Vanderbilt.
UGA had far to go in terms of race relations at that time. Classmate Bill Berryman recalled with sadness “sitting in the student section at football games and hearing the awful things students yelled at Black players for the other team, especially Eddie McAshan from Georgia Tech.”
The main area where UGA had made advancements in race was the Black Studies program, which was entering its second year. A student could earn a Certificate in Afro-American studies by taking 20 credit hours in Black studies courses offered in art, history, anthropology, drama, political science, sociology and music.
However, the marching band that performed at football games still was called the Dixie Redcoat Band. (The first part of that name would be excised the following school year, sparking outrage from the campus neocons in the Demosthenian Literary Society.)
Campus media was pretty limited in 1970. The Red & Black was published only twice a week, and campus radio station WUOG-FM still was in the planning stages, with the university having applied to the FCC for a construction permit. There were a couple of underground publications distributed: Veritas and the United Free Press. Meanwhile, we did have four daily newspapers available, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. I earned my pocket money delivering the local Daily News early each morning via car.
The central campus had much less greenspace back then (the now-lovely Herty Field, where Georgia football was born, was a parking lot in my school days). As always, there was construction going on, with the former Commerce-Journalism building spending much of my time at UGA being renovated for Terry College. As a journalism major, I’d wind up spending much of my time in the Psychology-Journalism complex that had opened a couple of years earlier, but not so much that first quarter, as I’d been saddled by an advance orientation adviser with a schedule consisting of philosophy, P.E., geology and geography.
The newest building on campus was the expansive UGA bookstore, which had opened just 10 months earlier. (That didn’t stop the air-conditioning from going out in the store at the height of the fall quarter textbook rush.) The Robert Trent Jones-designed university golf course had opened just two years earlier.
Much of what’s now East Campus was the UGA farm (complete with a vintage barn), although the intramural fields had opened out there. Where the Tate Center is now was Stegeman Hall, home to an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool the Navy had built during World War II. Other Navy hand-me-downs still in use in 1970 included prefabricated apartments (known as the Prefabs) used as married-student housing to supplement the University Village built in the mid-‘60s. Also left over from WWII: 11 of the 20 buses that serviced four campus routes (plus a night bus).
There were 20 residence halls (11 of them for women), the newest of which were the high-rise dorms, Brumby, built in 1966, and Russell (1967). And, of course, they were overflowing. A proposal was pending that would require only freshmen to live in residence halls the next year.
Deanie Fincher, a friend of mine since elementary school, actually had enrolled at UGA the previous spring while still a senior at Athens High, and had gone to summer school. “So, by the time I started in the fall I had already taken three classes,” she said. “In September of 1970, I moved into Mell Hall to officially be on campus. I was a music major, so most of my classes were close by.”
She recalls that Oglethorpe House was the only co-ed residence hall (men and women on different floors), but it was a private dorm, not owned by the university at that time.
All but two of the dorms had phones, and residents were being offered optional refrigerators at a cost of $36 for three quarters that year. By the end of the quarter, though, hundreds still were waiting for the refrigerators to be delivered.
There were varying meal plans, depending on the number of meals/days you wanted at the two dining halls, the old Bolton (nicknamed Revoltin’ Bolton) and Snelling. You also could eat at the Bulldog Room, which was mostly fast food. (Athletes had their own dining hall in McWhorter Hall.) The meal plans ranged from $180 to $256 for fall quarter. Only Bolton was open on weekends, but nonresidents could buy meals at O-House.
As an Athens native, I was allowed to live at home, so I didn’t experience the dorm life my kids later would come to know so well, and my meal plan was what my mother served at home, or what I picked up downtown, or hanging out between classes at the Bulldog Room, where the jukebox always seemed to be playing John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”
For those who chose to eat off-campus, downtown Athens offered several meat-and-three spots, including Lynn’s, Tony’s and Dobbs House (a 24-hour diner). Also downtown were Alice’s Crazy Corner Cafe, the Spaghetti Store, Wrangler Steakhouse, Lum’s (with beer-steamed hot dogs!) and the Varsity, right across from the Arch.
Away from downtown, Magnolia Manor on Hull Street, a boarding house, also served a down-home menu. And Beechwood Buffet at the Beechwood shopping center offered all-you-can-eat on Mondays and Thursdays for $1.59 a person, with your choice of meat, vegetables, beverage, salad and desserts.
Other popular dining destinations for students that fall included several on Baxter Street: Hardee’s (near the high-rise dorms); the Shrimp Boat, where you could get chicken, shrimp, fish, sea food, sandwiches, pizza and salads; the Western Sizzlin’ steakhouse; Pedro’s, for Mexican; Ireland’s, where they served great steak biscuits; and Gigi’s, an Italian place with live music in the lounge that made a great place for dates.
Farther afield were Wishbone Fried Chicken, Shoney’s, McDonald’s, Burger Chef, Kentucky Fried Chicken at Davis House on the Macon Highway, innumerable pizza joints and, out on Atlanta Highway, Poss’ Barbecue, run by the family that handled the game day concessions at Sanford Stadium.
Also, in the Normaltown neighborhood of Athens, there was Allen’s, a venerable joint that classmate Tom Hodgson recalls fondly for “hamburgers on an English muffin, and travel posters going back to the ’50s or earlier.”
Bill Andrews remembers other places that “kept me nourished my freshman year” in 1970, including “Chase Street Cafe … Steverino’s … the Mayflower … Swamp Guinea and Little Bob’s.” And, he added, for “a good steak,” there was Prime Time on the Atlanta Highway.
Class registration (which had taken place the two days before classes started), was held in-person at the Coliseum, where students had to deal with new-fangled computer punch cards under the watchful eye of Dean William Tate, a legendary campus figure.
“Registering for class and trying to get student football tickets were completely baffling to me,” Bill Berryman recalled. “It was my first experience with computer punch cards, and it never ended well. I also remember Dean Tate keeping order at registration. He scared me to death.”
Since I’d registered for my classes in advance at freshman orientation that summer (the only time I ever lived in a dorm — three days and two nights in Myers Hall), I didn’t have to face the registration ordeal, where students had been known to disguise themselves as repairmen in order to sneak in before their assigned time.
Student life in the 1970s, much like now, generally revolved around clubs and organizations at the student center (then Memorial Hall), fraternities and sororities for those so inclined (I wasn’t), and sports.
Joe Costa, a high school classmate, started a quarter early, in the summer of 1970, in order to “get used to college life.” That fall, he remembered recently, “I was having too much fun being rushed by the Fiji fraternity, which had a bunch of Athens guys in it.”
Adjusting to college life “was not a gentle transition,” recalled Tom Hodgson another Athens High grad, “but a full immersion into a life of independence, beer abuse, hints of debauchery and fantastic new experiences. Maybe I was better prepared than some, because I had an older brother who had invited me to college parties while I was still in high school. That part was cool.
“My brother and I pledged the same frat [Kappa Alpha] where our older brother was in a senior position,” Tom said, “and it was the exact same frat at the exact same school as my father, uncles, grandfather and great uncles had pledged. I guess you call that a legacy. No matter, cool guys chose me to hang out with them, and I was more than willing. I learned within a few days that the best fraternity on campus is the one that lets you play. I thought I was so grown up.”
Tom correctly recalls that “college football, and UGA football in particular, was unabashedly front and center in the social universe of autumn in Athens.”
Pickup of student football tickets began the first day of classes, and the first home game was that Saturday, as the Bulldogs played host to Clemson. There was a street dance with a band called the Sweet Young’uns held that first weekend in Memorial Plaza, along with a pep rally for the Clemson game, and an American Brass jam session took place in the plaza after football on Saturday.
As that school year began, much of the talk was about whether we’d see another quarter of campus unrest, like the anti-war protests that briefly had shut down UGA the previous spring, when 3,000 students staged a sit-in at the Academic building after National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University. The Red & Black was full of news of student activist meetings, and the state Board of Regents had issued a statement decrying the previous protests.
An open letter to college students from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, published in the student paper, warned: “There’s nothing wrong with student dissent or student demands for change in society … But there is real grounds for concern about the extremism which led to violence, lawlessness and disrespect for the rights of others on many college campuses during the past year.”
Carlton Powell remembers that fall as the time you started seeing a lot of Vietnam war veterans coming back to UGA. Many of them now were anti-war, and a group called the Vietnam Veterans Against the War frequently could be seen handing out flyers in Memorial Plaza.
Still, despite university officials’ fears of a repeat of the previous spring, the Vietnam Moratorium Day at the end of October saw only about 30 people show up at the UGA demonstration.
The military draft still was in existence that fall. After reaching their 18th birthday, males were required to be available for military service for a year (or any portion of it), but that year could be postponed by a student deferment; you’d then be eligible for service after you left college.
I qualified for such a deferment, but since my number in the draft lottery was low enough that it conceivably could be called (in which case I might have to serve after college), I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, which also opened to women for the first time that quarter, though only one female student signed up.
Shortly after fall classes began, I received a draft card that had my status listed as “1-A” (draft eligible), which alarmed my mother considerably. A panicked friend called and said he’d also just received a 1-A card; he was wondering if he should run down and enlist in the Navy to avoid getting drafted into the Army.
I told him not to do anything rash, that I had to walk by the Selective Service office on my way back to class, and I’d check on our status. The kind woman at Selective Service told me “we just haven’t gotten the list from UGA yet,” and assured me that my “2-S” card for student deferment would be coming along soon. And, it did.
In the meantime, Air Force ROTC’s reputation for being much less gung-ho than Army ROTC was well-earned at that time. We didn’t wear our blue uniforms very often, and we hardly ever drilled in formation. That was a bit of a problem when we had to march in the downtown Athens Christmas parade toward the end of the quarter, so the officers in charge just asked who had high school ROTC experience. Those of us who raised our hands were put on the right end of each line, and the others were told just to do what we did!
Eventually, it became clear the draft wasn’t going to go as high as my lottery number, so my military involvement ended with just one quarter of ROTC.
Drug use was another frequent topic in the R&B. Campus police had received extensive training over the summer on dealing with drug abuse, and Superior Court Judge James Barrow wrote a letter to the paper, reminding students that “the possession or use of any amount of marijuana is a felony carrying a minimum sentence of one year.” Possession of LSD could get you two to five years.
Classes were suspended for November’s General Election, and the gubernatorial race drew a fair amount of attention in the student newspaper, with both Jimmy Carter and his Republican opponent, longtime Atlanta newsman Hal Suit, visiting campus during the campaign. Suit won the mock student balloting, with 70 percent of the vote, and the Red & Black also endorsed the Republican — only surprising if you don’t know that Carter had defeated moderate Democrat Carl Sanders, his primary opponent, by running a George Wallace-inspired campaign designed to appeal to rednecks. Boy, were those voters surprised after Carter won and the new governor revealed himself at his inauguration as a Southern liberal.
Also on campus that fall, a moon rock was on display for two weeks, and economist-sociologist (and future Nobel winner) Gunnar Myrdal gave several lectures. The University Theatre presented “Biedermann and the Firebugs” at the Fine Arts Auditorium.
In a sign of the times, work continued that fall on a project dubbed “People’s Park,” located on an overgrown 7.5-acre plot of land on Cloverhurst Avenue, near the dorms, that was a remnant from when a black community called Linnentown had been razed in the ’60s for “urban renewal.” Perhaps inspired by a similar park at Berkeley in California, a student senator had proposed clearing the lot and making it a spot for recreation and concerts the previous spring. Surprisingly, the university administration gave its approval. Students had worked over the summer to clear the land, and a concert had been held there. With planning by UGA’s School of Environmental Design, the park eventually became a venue for musical performances, picnics and just soaking up sun, before fading from consciousness and returning to nature. People’s Park actually still is there, though my kids never heard of it during their time at UGA in the 2000s. It’s overgrown again, but is commemorated by UGA online.)
Just as the Tate Center is nowadays, Memorial Hall was ground zero for student organizations in 1970, with various clubs and groups headquartered there. Most nights, there were lectures on campus, where you could learn about subjects like Transcendental Meditation, started by The Beatles’ guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Memorial Hall also was where the University Union (which promoted various activities and performances) and the Student Government Association were based. The student executive branch and senate still largely were in the hands of the Greeks and middle-of-the-roaders that fall, but would be taken over within a couple of years by a leftwing activist party called Coalition — which, in true Athens style, grew out of the followers of a local rock band called Ravenstone. A sign of things to come …
Check out Part 2: Big-name concerts at UGA, alums and locals recall the nascent Athens music scene, the bars that flourished even in the days before the drinking age was lowered, other entertainment offerings available to students, and what we were wearing in the fall of 1970.
To read about the Georgia Bulldogs’ 1970 football season, and how the Senior Parade tradition was killed by an embarrassing showing at the Ole Miss game, check out my Junkyard Blawg.