about donald lee hollowell

Donald Lee Hollowell, along with NAACP President Sam Williams, and Hamilton Holmes, leaving the University of Georgia after attempting to register in 1961.

Founded in 1875, the University of Georgia is the oldest public institution of higher learning in the United States. In 1961 - 176 years after its charter - Donald Hollowell's civil rights work reached its apex when he served as lead counsel in the lawsuit seeking to gain the admission of the first students of color to the state's flagship institution.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter applied to the University of Georgia in the summer of 1959 but were denied admission. They were told that all the dorms were full. They reapplied in the fall semester of 1959, the spring semester of 1960, and for the fall semester of 1960. Each time they were denied and each time they were given the same reason. On September 2, 1960, Hollowell filed suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia seeking an injunction to prohibit the university from denying them admission on the basis of their race. Initially, Judge William Augustus Bootle denied the injunction, ruling the plaintiffs had not exhausted all of their administrative remedies.  The two students were given personal interviews by the admissions director, and after being denied once again, Hollowell prepared for trial.

Vernon Jordan and Horace Ward, who Hollowell had represented a few years earlier in his unsuccessful attempt to be admitted to the UGA law school, had joined Hollowell's firm. Jordan discovered key evidence that would turn the case in their favor. He found the record of a white female student whose academic profile was nearly identical to Hunter's, and who like Hunter, was a transfer student desiring to major in journalism. She, unlike Hunter, had been admitted.

Over the course of five days, Hollowell demonstrated that the basis for denial was indeed racial. In his ruling, ordering the admission of the two students, Judge Bootle found that "the two plaintiffs are fully qualified and would already have been admitted had it not been for their race and color."

Holmes v. Danner, 191 F. Supp. 394 (M.D. Ga. 1961).

Criminal Cases:

Cobb v. State, 218 Ga. 10, 126 S.E. 2d 21 (1962). Representation of a 15 year old black male sentenced to death for the murder of his mother's employer. The case drew national attention, including the interest of Eleanor Roosevelt who, upon learning of the case, telegrammed Governor Ernest Vandiver saying, "I am shocked to learn that a 15-year old boy was sentenced to die. This to me is unthinkable, and I hope you will do all that you can to obtain clemency."

Delta Manor Nine (1962). Successful representation of nine defendants charged with murder in riot related incident in Augusta, Georgia.

Fair v. Balkcom, 216 Ga. 721 (1961). Successful reversal of death penalty case based upon denial of right to counsel and other due process grounds.

In Re: Hall,  Representation of the family of A.C. Hall at an inquest hearing involving the fatal shooting of Hall by a police officer (October 1962).

King v. State, 103 Ga. App. 272 (1961). Securing release of Martin Luther King, Jr. from state prison.

State v. Nash, Case No. 70024 (Fulton County Superior Court 1954). Successful representation of man falsely charged with murder, rape, and robbery. (N.B. This was Hollowell's first major case)

Education Cases:

Gaines v. Dougherty County Board of Education, 222 F. Supp. 166 (S.D. Ga. 1963). Case outlawing operation of segregated school system in Albany, Georgia.

Holmes v. Danner, 191 F. Supp. 385 (M.D. Ga. 1960). Successful challenge to the undergratuate admissions policies of the University of Georgia.

Hunt v. Arnold, 172 F. Supp. 847 (N.D. Ga. 1959). Successful challenge to the admissions policies of the Georgia State College of Business (now Georgia State University).

Stell v. Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education, 333 F. 2d 55 (5th Cir. 1964). Case outlawing operation of segregated school system in Savannah.

Ward v. Regents of University System of Georgia, 191 F. Supp. 491 (N.D. Ga. 1957). Unsuccessful attempt to gain admission of Horace Ward to the University of Georgia School of Law.

Public Accommodation Cases:

Albany Movement (various cases relating to protests involving efforts to desegregate public restaurants, parks, schools, and transportation) (1961).

Atlanta Student movement (various cases relating to protests involving efforts to desegregate public restaurants) (1960).

Bell et. al. v. Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, Civil Action No. 7966 (N.D. Ga. 1964). Consent decree resulting in the desegregation of the nursing school at Grady Hospital, staffing privileges for black physicians and dentists at Grady, and enrollment of black physicians as members of medical associations.

Bell v. Georgia Dental Association, 231 F. Supp. 299 (N.D. Ga. 1964). Case invalidating exclusion of black dentists from professional association based on race.

Coke v. the City of Atlanta, 184 F. Supp. 59 (N.D. Ga. 1960). Case outlawing the operations of segregated dining facilities at the Atlanta airport.

Walker v. State, 381 U.S. 355 (1965). Successful appeal gaining the reversal of conviction of white protester during a sit-in demonstration at an Atlanta Krystal restaurant. Mardon Walker was sentenced by a Fulton judge to twelve months of public works and six months in prison for his role of "protesting while white."

Warner v. Atlanta, case involving successful invalidation of City of Atlanta's erection of barricades between neighborhoods when black physician purchased home in all-white section of the city.

The Sacred Call: A Tribute to Donald L. Hollowell by Louise Hollowell and Martin C. Lehfeldt (Four-G Publishers 1997)

Saving the Soul of Georgia: Donald L. Hollowell and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Maurice C. Daniels (University of Georgia Press 2013)


State v. Johnson. The first of a two-part story about the lawyers who helped crack the color lines of the Jim Crow South. In 1960, Nathaniel Johnson is accused of rape. Vernon Jordan describes how his mentor, Donald Lee Hollowell came to the man’s defense -- and in the process learning a difficult lesson about justice.

Part Two continues with Mr. Hollowell Didn't Like That. A man named Willie Nash is arrested in 1954 for the murder of a white man in Augusta Georgia. Witnesses place him at the scene. The victim picks him out of the lineup. He confesses. He is headed for the electric chair. Until his young black attorney, Donald L. Hollowell, mounts a defense that rivets black spectators and gives them hope.


Hate consumes. One has to use that energy constructively in an effort to change those diabolical aspects of life which impinge upon him and others of his race. That’s what I chose to do.

~Donald Lee Hollowell~

Photos provided courtesy of Archives Division, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. All rights reserved.