REMEMBERING JUNE 11, 1963: ALABAMA HAS COME SO FAR, BUT THERE’S STILL MORE AHEAD
You’ve probably heard about “The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”
It happened June 11, 1983, when Vivian Malone and James Hood arrived at Foster Auditorium on the University of Alabama campus to register for classes. On that day, the two black soon-to-be UA students found themselves stuck in the middle of a standoff between Alabama Gov. George Wallace and U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
With the help of the U.S. government and Alabama National Guard, Malone and Hood were eventually escorted through Wallace’s blockade and registered for classes.
As author of “The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama” Dr. E. Culpepper Clark put it, their bravery in the face of hate became one of the most influential moments in the Civil Rights Movement. Now, Foster Auditorium stands as a National Historic Landmark in addition to it serving as the home of the UA women’s volleyball program.
While Malone and Hood took that first major step 57 years ago, it was years before UA fully integrated, Clark said.
“The School House Door was June 11, 1963,” he said. “We did not make meaningful progress on integration, that is getting enough and sufficient enough African Americans, until at least five years later.”
Arthur Dunning was one of the first few African Americans who attended the university in 1966. He said he learned about Malone and Hood’s success while reading a newspaper during his service with the U.S. Air Force.
“It was Vivian Malone walking near Denny Chimes with U.S. marshals, and it occurred to me what was happening when I was out of the country,” Dunning said. “During that ’63 time period as a 19-year-old I was very much seething about the whole thing.”
When Dunning left the Air Force, he said he left with the Vietnam-era GI Bill. That allowed him a chance at going to a state university with a little bit left over, he said.
Even though he was allowed in at UA, there weren’t many African American students, he said. Not to mention the hate and isolation he faced because of his skin tone.
“It was complete isolation socially,” he said. “On Friday nights, six or eight students went to Stillman College, and since I was a little older there’s one thing I really have enjoyed all my life: Southern blues.”
So instead of visiting Stillman, Dunning said his usual spot was a place called the Citizens Club on Eutaw Highway.
“So Alabama, the university is almost like a job,” he said. “I came to classes, but not to get integrated fully into the social aspect of the campus because of the sheer isolation. I was a third-year student before anybody sat by me in a classroom.”
Dunning said he is thankful for the few students and teachers who became allies with African American students fighting for change. And he has some suggestions for the college’s students of today who are looking to change things in 2020.
“I would say there are three things you need,” Dunning said. “Collaboration, cooperation and leveraging relationships. We didn’t do anything on issues unless we had that.”
Seven years before Malone and Hood, on Feb. 5, 1956, Autherine Lucy became the first African American student accepted at UA. Her admission lasted just three days.