The “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” was Alabama Governor George Wallace’s symbolic opposition to school integration imposed by the federal government. On June 11, 1963, he stood in the doorway of UA’s Foster Auditorium in a failed attempt to prevent the enrollment of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. The day marks the beginning of school desegregation in Alabama. Moreover, it would haunt both Wallace and the state for years to come.
Wallace, who served as Alabama’s governor for four terms spread between the 1960s and 1980s, originally was elected as a segregationist. He gained notoriety for his 1963 inauguration speech, in which he declared his support for “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace also had mentioned during that campaign that he would block any attempt to integrate schools. He gained national attention when he challenged Malone and Hood’s enrollment at UA, arguing that the U.S. Constitution gave states, not the federal government, authority over public schools and universities.
Hood, of Gadsden, and Malone, of Mobile, applied to UA in November 1964. They were not the first black students to apply or even attend the school. Autherine Lucy, a graduate student from Shiloh, had been accepted to the University and attended for three days in 1956. However, after she was threatened with mob violence, UA officials said the school could no longer protect her. She filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the University, which was used as an excuse to expel her.
Hood and Malone were scheduled to enroll on June 11. That morning, Wallace, flanked by state troopers, positioned himself at the entrance to Foster Auditorium. On the authority of President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, accompanied by federal marshals and the Alabama National Guard, confronted Wallace and asked him to allow the students to enter. Wallace refused and delivered a speech in which he complained that the “central government” was encroaching on the rights and sovereignty of Alabama. He cited the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which established states’ authority in the absence of federal authority. After speaking, he placed himself in the doorway of Foster Auditorium and refused to move.
Katzenbach sent Hood and Malone to their dormitories. When Attorney General Robert Kennedy learned from Katzenbach of Wallace’s refusal to allow the students to enter, it was decreed time to authorize the National Guard to remove Wallace. Under President Kennedy’s authorization, Brigadier General Henry V. Graham arrived in Tuscaloosa on the afternoon of June 11 and told Wallace that it was his “sad duty” to tell the governor to step aside. Wallace made a quick, final statement and complied. The event received national news coverage, providing Wallace a stage for launching four unsuccessful presidential campaigns on his stance in favor of states’ rights.
Malone graduated from UA in 1965 with a degree in personnel management. She died Oct. 13, 2005, in Atlanta, following complications from a stroke. Hood withdrew a few months after enrolling, but returned to earn a doctorate in 1997.
Wallace’s stand on segregation would plague him politically for the rest of his life, although he had a change of heart on race and segregation. He ran a final, successful campaign for Alabama governor in the 1980s, an election he won in part because of the black vote. Wallace even befriended Hood later in life.
The legacy of Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door is twofold. Although it is an enduring stain on Alabama’s education record and a sad testament to the treatment of its own people, it also served as a turning point for the first steps toward racial equality at the University and within the state.
Adapted by permission from the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Copyright by the Alabama Humanities Foundation.