Granddaughter enrolls after Georgia Tech desegregation fight
Eight years before the Georgia Institute of Technology admitted black students, a young man wishing to study mechanical engineering applied to attend school there.
The interactions that followed — the cold indifference of Georgia Tech, the support Robert Cheeseboro received from the NAACP, and newspaper articles detailing his struggles — are on file at the Library of Congress.
Cheeseboro’s daughter, Evelyn Bolton, 53, of Gastonia, knew little until she found documents shortly before her father died of dementia in February. He was 87 years old.
Library records paint a picture of his father’s struggle as a black man in the South, a time Cheeseboro rarely spoke about, Bolton said.
“It’s sad that I never took the time to really understand what he went through,” she said.
CHEEBORO VS. GEORGIA TECH
Cheeseboro was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934 and grew up in Columbus, Georgia, on the western border of the state.
He was smart enough to skip his senior year of high school to attend Morehouse College, the historically black male liberal arts school in Atlanta, family members said.
In 1953 – after a year at Morehouse – Cheeseboro applied to Georgia Tech, located just 4 miles from Morehouse. But for a black man in the 1950s, that was unattainable.
Cheeseboro’s application included a transcript of A’s and B’s and letters of recommendation, documents show. One noted Cheeseboro’s “ability to do well academically and his natural ability to organize and lead people.” Another said Cheeseboro was a member of the National Honor Society.
Georgia Tech’s answer? He recommended that Cheeseboro attend school out of state, according to a March 9, 1953 letter from L. R. Siebert, the executive secretary of the University System Regents.
The system would even help pay Cheeseboro for not attending Georgia Tech.
“The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has approved the awarding of a scholarship to qualified black citizens of the State of Georgia for study in fields offered to white citizens of the state by the system college in Georgia, but not offered at black institutions in the university system,” Siebert’s letter read.
In his letter, Siebert mentions a dozen possible universities, including North Carolina A&T, Howard University, New York University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
But Cheeseboro persisted in her efforts to enroll in the state-funded campus, letters say. He responded at least four times, asking school officials to reconsider.
“Georgia Institute of Technology is my school of choice and offers the type of education I seek, so I would ask you…to evaluate my case on its merits for admission to the Georgia Institute of Technology” , wrote Cheeseboro.
Black newspapers across the country carried information about how Cheeseboro was treated. The Library of Congress sent Bolton copies of articles from Atlanta, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Miami that describe his story.
“Morehouse Student Seeks Admission to Georgia Tech” read an April 18, 1953 headline in the Miami Times.
The article describes how the NAACP released copies of Cheeseboro’s correspondence with the school. He also describes how the school tightened restrictions, making it nearly impossible for black people to enter.
“Last Wednesday, the regents ordered all units in the system to administer entrance examinations and furthermore to require all prospective students to submit certificates from alumni of the university attesting to their good standing. morality,” the article read.
“Of course in the Jim Crow South that wasn’t going to happen,” Bolton told The Charlotte Observer.
Cheeseboro never entered Georgia Tech. He moved out of state to graduate from the University of Rochester in New York.
He eventually made his way to California, where around 1965 he invented a portable record player called the Swinger.
The Swinger weighed 5.5 pounds, came with rechargeable batteries, and could be flipped or installed in a car.
Think of it as a precursor to the CD player.
Fast forward over 50 years. From her home in Gastonia, 17-year-old Samantha Bolton, Cheeseboro’s granddaughter, applied for admission to Georgia Tech.
At the time, she had no knowledge of the battle led by her grandfather.
The family came across the Library of Congress documents after Samantha entered and shortly before school officials offered her the Provost scholarship.
The scholarship provides 40 first-year non-Georgian residents with an out-of-state tuition waiver for eight semesters.
Yeah, the school that once tried to pay her grandfather to go to college somewhere else would give Samantha money to go.
And there’s this: Samantha hopes to study mechanical engineering, “like my grandfather.”