A. R. Killian is a retired letter-carrier who lives on Chase St., right across from Chase St. Elementary School and kitty-corner from The Bread Basket. He served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict, and was Athens’ first African-American police officer. I spotted him in his yard the other day, and asked him a few questions about Athens.
Where do you enjoy walking in town?
Right now I don’t walk. I used to walk downtown. I used to go downtown, park my car and walk all over town. I parked where I could park without getting a ticket. I just walked through town to see what was going on.
And I guess that habit started when I was in high school and I worked downtown. I worked for Fickett’s Jewelry store back in the 50s. Mr. Fickett was a New Englander, and he moved to Athens and started a jewelry store. He was an optometrist, and a watchmaker. I really learned a lot working for them. I made $2.50 a week—that was a lot of money back then. I cleaned-up. Polished jewelry. Went to the bank. Went to the post office. Delivered packages. Repaired jewelry. Went everywhere.
If you worked downtown, you could go in any establishment because they recognized you as working for Mr. Fickett.
If you could change one thing about traffic in Athens, what would that be?
Slow it down. People drive, and don’t pay any attention. They run the red light. I have seen people right in front of this house talking on the telephone and get so engrossed in the phone they just come to a complete stop in the middle of the street.
What’s missing in Athens?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. When you go downtown, there’s everything kind of eating establishment. I really can’t think of anything that’s missing—at least not for me.
What annoys you most about Athens?
The police locking up students. Instead of giving a student a second chance or talking to him, trying to put him on the right track, they lock him up, and give him a record. I was reading in the paper this morning, they locked up 18 underage drinkers. That’s going to be on their records forever. The law for drinking in Georgia when I went in the war was 18. Now, it’s 21. You are going to send a man off to Iraq, Afghanistan—to get him killed, and he can’t drink a beer. There’s something wrong with that.
What’s your favorite spot in town?
The Bread Basket, right across the street. Newspaper. Food. I see people I know. I walk over there every day. I guess the main reason I don’t subscribe to the paper is I get up every morning and walk to the Bread Basket and buy it there. The people that work there are nice. It’s a good routine. I guess it’s my favorite place.
What picture would you put on a postcard of Athens?
The University of Georgia. That’s what it’s known for. But I haven’t thought about it, really.
Is there a local issue you want to comment on?
The main thing is, if the economy is down and the people don’t have money, how in the world are you going to finance things like the tennis courts? We don’t need tennis courts…I mean, I can’t say we don’t need them, but you don’t need them if you can’t pay for them. That’s what I’m saying. Anything you can afford is all right. But if you got to use deficit spending, and put other people in a bind, then you need to let that alone.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Athens?
Well, I left Athens in 1950, and I swore that I would never come back to Athens for anything except my mother’s funeral [because of the racial climate and lack of job opportunities].
I served in the Air Force in Europe. I moved to California and went to school, and I was doing well in California. And one day I just got the urge to come back to Athens. And I called my Momma, and she told me I was crazy.
But I came back to Athens [in 1961]. And I guess my job was to keep Hamp [Hamilton Holmes] home so he could integrate the University of Georgia. Then I integrated the police department, and then I went to the post office…And one thing after another.
When Hamp came—Hamp and Charlayne [Hunter]…the week they were supposed to start at school the decision came down that said unless Hamp had a place off campus to live, he could not go. My mother got a call wanting to know if she knew anybody who could keep Hamp. I hadn’t been back from California too long. I told her I had been through a war. I fought to be free. And he could stay with us. And he did. He stayed with us two years [at a place on Harris and Broad Sts.] And the clan came out to burn a cross…Now, the army taught me what to do. I didn’t go to the military just to go. I went to learn to be free…
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This recorded interview was lightly edited and condensed.