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Lucy Huie wins state humanities award

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

As she walked across her front yard, nearly 50 years later, Lucy Huie pointed to the spot where people burned three crosses in front of her Jonesboro home, in protest of her support for keeping public schools open during the era of desegregation.

As she walked to the area where the crosses burned -- at the edge of her yard, on an embankment overlooking Fayette Avenue -- she explained how she and her now-deceased husband, Arthur, were scared for their safety, and the safety of their four children.

She said the Ku Klux Klan was most likely behind the cross burnings, but conceded she is not entirely sure. "They were not burned ... all at the same time," she said. "We didn't know who was putting the crosses up, or when they would do it. We figured they would run up the hill, quickly plant them in the ground, set them on fire, and then run away."

Huie is one of 12 recipients of this year's Governor's Awards in the Humanities from the Georgia Humanities Council. The fact that she continued advocating to keep public schools open -- and desegregated -- in the early-1960s, was cited as one of the reasons she received the recognition. Her support of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc., her past membership on the Clayton State University Board of Trustees, and her efforts to collect the oral histories of Clayton County residents for Emory University, were also cited during the recognition ceremony.

Huie was nominated by Decatur resident, Herbert Denmark, who was the president of a "Pen and Pica" writing club in Clayton County, when Huie was a member in the 1990s. Denmark said he nominated Huie primarily for continuing to support the Help Our Public Education (HOPE, not related to the scholarships) initiative. The initiative was an Atlanta-based effort to advocate for keeping desegregated schools open in the face of legislative pressure in the state to close them down, according to Huie.

Her involvement with the HOPE initiative -- and the burning crosses -- came up during a writing assignment "Pen and Pica" did early on in the group's life, according to Denmark.

"One of our first efforts was to write a book about our individual experiences," Denmark said. "She wrote several pieces about what she went through with the burning crosses in her yard, and they were very interesting. We were all amazed that, as a woman, she stood up to the Klan, because that is just not something you think about a woman taking on back then."

As Lucy Huie walked up to the spot where she remembered the burning crosses being left, she explained that the crosses left in her front yard were not the tall, burning crosses depicted in photographs from the 1950s and 1960s. "They only came up to about here," she said, holding her right hand up to her waist. "One time, my husband said, 'Gee, you'd think they'd get a bigger cross for us.' "

The humanities award recipient said, when the crosses were being burned, there was a strong anti-desegregation sentiment among many white people in the South, in response to court orders to desegregate public schools -- and mix white and black students. Many schools in Mississippi and Alabama had already been closed to keep them from becoming desegregated, Huie said.

The people behind HOPE did not want to see that happen in Georgia, added Huie. "Our stance was that it was better to have an integrated school, than no school at all," she said.

Huie, born in Murrayville,Ga., was the daughter of a traveling Methodist preacher. She received bachelor's degrees in English and psychology from Wesleyan College in 1941, and a master's degree in library science from Emory University in 1942. She has been a W.W.II army nurse, owned a travel agency, and has helped her husband run a cattle farm in Jonesboro.

Drumming up support in Jonesboro to keep desegregated schools open at a time when Jim Crow was still popular with many white people, however, was not an easy task, she explained.

"I called every reverend in the phone book, and except for a couple of churches, they said 'We just can't get into that, it's too controversial,'" she said. "Oh, and I got lots of insulting phone calls, too. People would call me and tell me what they thought of me, and then hang up. And, one time, I was in the grocery store, minding my own business, and this woman -- who I didn't even know -- came up to me and nudged me real hard with her shoulder. I turned to look at her, and she started saying '[expletive] lover! [expletive] lover!' "

Despite the difficulties. Huie said she and her husband never wavered in their support of the HOPE initiative. "It was scary, but we always felt like it was something we should do," she said.

But, when looking at Lucy Huie's impact on Clayton County, it cannot be measured solely by which boards she has served on, or how many crosses were burned in her yard, Denmark said.

Huie also has donated land to the county that now houses one of the symbols of Clayton County government. Before her husband died in 1980, Lucy and Arthur Huie owned a small airport that was located on Tara Boulevard. Lucy Huie later donated a small part of that land to Clayton State, where a building -- named in her honor -- now stands.

The rest of the land, she said, was donated to the county government. It is now the site of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, and the county jail.