Hamilton E. Holmes was born in Atlanta on July 8, 1941. The son of a businessman and school teacher, he was the oldest of five children and grew up in a middle-class family that stressed education. Every family member in his generation, as well as all of his family for three preceding generations, was a college graduate. An athlete and a scholar, he lettered in football, basketball and track in high school, and was also his class valedictorian.
After attending Morehouse College for a year, Holmes transferred to the University of Georgia. He was one of the first two Black students at UGA. (A fellow high school classmate, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, was the other.) Despite a constant barrage of attention and racially motivated hostility, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the university in 1963. He then became the first Black person to enter Emory University’s School of Medicine, graduating in 1967. A respected orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, Holmes was the Associate Dean at Emory’s School of Medicine and chairperson of the orthopedic unit at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
In 1983, Holmes became the first Black to be named a trustee for the University of Georgia Foundation. He served on both the Foundation Fellows selection committee and the Bradley-Turner Foundation Leadership Scholars selection committee. Along with Hunter-Gault, Holmes was awarded UGA’s Bicentennial Medal in 1985. In 1993, UGA bestowed its Distinguished Alumni Merit Award upon Holmes.
Holmes died on October 26, 1995. A gift from the estate of Orrin A. Redmann established the Hamilton E. Holmes Professorship in honor of this trailblazer. It reflects a desire to strengthen the programs in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and to honor of the Holmes family’s dedication to the importance of education.