Taking Steps Forward

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

A new sign in front of the Auburn University Student Center is a physical example of progress on Auburn University’s campus. 

Friday afternoon the university rededicated the student center to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Harold Melton. 

Melton was Auburn University’s first African American SGA President and is the first African American that the university has named a building after. 

“I never thought that I would get involved with SGA, or certainly become SGA President, never thought that I would be on the supreme court and you can imagine, I never imagined this kind of moment,” Melton said. “I do thank the Lord. I do thank the Lord that He led me to this place, because it was exactly what I needed, for spiritual, educational and social growth.”

The Auburn University Board of Trustees voted during its September meeting to rename the building unanimously as the Harold D. Melton Student Center. 

The student center has never had an official name, said Bobby Woodard, senior vice president for Student Affairs

“Thousands of folks have been working in and visiting this beautiful building, especially on game days, which we have simply just called the student center,” he said. “That all changes today.”

Melton served as the SGA president from 1987-1988. 

“During his tenure from 1987-1988, he worked to improve student life at Auburn and his perspective was impactful in ensuring he would not be the last African American SGA President here,” said current SGA President Ada Ruth Huntley. “He was a part of paving the way for many student leaders to come, including myself.”

After his Auburn graduation in International Business, Melton attended the University of Georgia Law School. Before he became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Melton served as the Executive Council to Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.

“Chief Melton is the walking, talking, living, breathing, embodiment of the Auburn Creed,” Woodard said. “An Auburn man through and through. I can think of no better way to recognize him than naming this building in his honor. This beautiful building finally has a name on it. I am, for one, proud to work in the Harold D. Melton Student Center.”

Melton said that he received a call from the university in August letting him know they hoped to name the student center after him. 

“Once I realized they were naming this whole big thing [after me], I was just shaking,” Melton said. “… There were a couple of thoughts that ran through my head. One of the thoughts was just the meaning of what this is for a name, your name, and I thought back to Dean Foy.”

Melton said that he has memories of Foy walking through Foy Union to interact with students.

“It was more than his name on the building, he took that as a role, an assignment,” Melton said. “ … I remember him coming up and saying ‘hi’ and ‘how you doing, you have everything you need?’”

Melton said he also recalled the experience of Harold Franklin, the first African American student at Auburn University. 

“I can’t compare my experience here at Auburn to Harold Franklin’s experience,” he said. “What he had to do here was basically endure. He had to endure, he had to suffer. And ultimately this university is doing what it takes to make sure he got what he deserved and I’m proud of what the university is doing in that regard.”

Running for SGA President was not an exercise in endurance, Melton said, but a fun and exciting experience with friends. 

There were those, however, who told him not to run, who said his friends would not stand by his side, who said that the university would not want him as SGA president, he said. 

“When I had the privilege of winning, my friends were with me, the university was with me,” Melton said. “They were not embarrassed. In fact, they pushed me forward.” 

Last year’s SGA President Mary Margaret Turton started the initiative to rename the student center after Melton, said Board of Trustee Member Elizabeth Huntley, who co-chaired the task force to approve the dedication.

Ada Ruth Huntley, who is also Elizabeths’ daughter, was able to complete Turton’s work. 

“What I want to point out is that it was a white, female SGA president that pushed the initiative for this student center to be named the Harold Melton Student Center,” Elizabeth said. “And then it was the first African American female SGA president that’s finishing it out. And we often talk about black history in this country when I think we need to change our tune and call it gray history. 

“Because when we look back on all of the advancements that have occurred in our society, that have advanced diversity efforts, that have advanced humanitarian efforts, it’s always been that side of American that’s the good side. That believes in all of us. That looks at the character of a man and determined that that character should be celebrated. And that’s what significant to me about this day.”

The group, along with Trustee Bob Dumas, presented Melton with an official proclamation for the dedication of the Harold D. Melton Student Center.

“I always like to start by saying, it’s a great day in the life of Auburn University,” said Auburn President Jay Gogue. “This is a really, really, really great day in the life of Auburn University and I want to thank all of you for being here today … We make real history today. And I just simply want to say that, Chief Justice Melton, you actually honor Auburn by allowing us to honor your today. Thank you.”

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