The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door

PicturePhoto by Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine

On this day, June 11th 1963, one of the seminal moments in the Civil Rights Movement occurred: the Stand in the Schoolhouse door where Governor George Wallace tried to block James Hood and Vivian Malone from enrolling at the University of Alabama because of the color of their skin. The events leading up to this actually began years before with Brown v. Board of Education, a decision which called for the integration of the University of Alabama. However, for years following the 1954 ruling the university worked with police to disqualify and intimidate African-American applicants, in the process denying admission to hundreds of students. In 1956 Autherine Lucy had enrolled as a graduate student, however, she was suspended and then expelled by the board of trustees who contended that they could not provide a safe learning environment after violent protests erupted.

In the 1960s, James Hood and Vivian Malone were selected by the Non-Partisan Voter League to desegregate the school based on their exceptional grades. After submitting her application to the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, two white men visited Malone and her family and attempted to intimidate them by noting that violent threats had been made against them and that law enforcement would be unable to prevent an incident. Ultimately the District Court Judge in 1963 granted them permission to enroll after years of deliberations and proceedings, specifically instructing Governor Wallace not to interfere. However, Governor Wallace was a staunch segregationist, announcing during his inauguration five months earlier, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

The two students arrived that day with US Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and an escort of federal marshals, which was appropriate considering that they were greeted by Governor Wallace and a group of state troopers. Katzenbach confronted Wallace who stood in the doorway to Foster Auditorium, asking him to step aside but he was intransigent. Katzenbach instead took Malone to her dorm room and suggested she take lunch if hungry; meanwhile, he reached out to President John F. Kennedy, asking him to intervene. President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard, putting them under his control, and had them escort Hood and Malone to the auditorium to register. Confronted by General Henry V. Graham of the National Guard, Governor Wallace finally relented, allowing them to enter.

Two years later in 1965, Malone received a B.A. in business management becoming the first African-American graduate from the University of Alabama. 

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