George Wallace Stood in a Doorway at the University of Alabama 50 Years Ago Today

The Alabama governor famously protested the integration of the state university by two black students.

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Former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace vowed "segregation forever" and blocked the door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963, in Tuscaloosa, Ala, while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. (File/USN&WR)
Former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace vowed "segregation forever" and blocked the door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963, in Tuscaloosa, Ala, while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. (File/USN&WR)

In January of 1963, following his election as Governor of Alabama, George Wallace famously stated in his inaugural address: "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

The staunch conservative demonstrated his loyalty to the cause on June 11, 1963, when black students Vivian Malone and James A. Hood showed up at the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa to attend class. In what historians often refer to as the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door," the governor literally stood in the doorway as federal authorities tried to allow the students to enter.

[READ: Wallace Sought Influence Amid Upheaval]

When Wallace refused to budge, President John F. Kennedy called for 100 troops from the Alabama National Guard to assist federal officials. Wallace chose to step down rather than incite violence.

The summer of 1963 was a tense time in this nation's history. The day after Wallace's standoff, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Miss. Violence also struck in Cambridge, Md., and Danville, Va., that June.

 

Kennedy spoke to a national audience hours after the Alabama showdown, outlining his plans for federal legislation to make way for further integration. The landmark speech angered conservative Americans, including U.S. News's founder and editor David Lawrence.

[OPINION: When U.S. News Was Wrong on Civil Rights]

Despite the magazine founder's conservative leanings, U.S. News devoted dozens of pages of its June 24 issue to the civil rights movement, with articles on places where the "color bars" were quietly dropping, the lack of jobs for "negro workers", and, of course, the violent racial incidents.

One of these articles, reprinted below, highlights George Wallace's standoff and ends with a warning from a black congressman that is quite telling in hindsight. Representative Charles C. Diggs, Jr. a Democrat from Michigan who would go on to serve as the first chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said:

"If the Negroes don't get their demands, they will turn to other leadership that will produce an even greater crisis than this one."

[READ: Remembering Rosa Parks on Her 100th Birthday]

Sure enough, crisis after crisis plagued America over the next few years, culminating in 1968 with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, as well as mass rioting at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (although that had more to do with the Vietnam War than racial injustice).

Today, 50 years removed from Wallace's protest, the University of Alabama's student body is 13 percent African American, which is only slightly lower than the national average of 14 percent of college students, but is equal to the overall percentage of black people in the United States.


This article originally ran in the June 24, 1963, issue of U.S. News & World Report.


AS RACE TENSIONS RISE—

Integration is turning out to be a far more complex job than putting a few Negroes in a white college, or passing new civil-rights laws. As Negroes gain, their demands grow, violence spreads. Ahead: a long, bitter, nationwide struggle.

Reported from TUSCALOOSA, Ala., JACKSON, Miss., and WASHINGTON, D.C.—Once again a campus of a State university has been occupied by U. S. troops. On June 11, the University of Alabama was integrated by the admission of two Negroes to summer school. With U.S. troops escorting the Negroes, and State police on hand to preserve order, Alabama's integration was accomplished without violence.

Race violence, however, erupted at other places in the nation. In the same week: A Negro leader was shot in the back and mortally wounded at Jackson, Miss. Race riots broke out at Danville, Va., and Cambridge, Md.

President Kennedy, on June 11, went on radio and television appealing to the nation to give Negroes equal rights. He called for new federal laws to deal with race problems. In Congress, a bitter battle began over the President's legislative proposals.

On June 14. mass demonstrations spread to the nation's capital. Several thousand Negroes—and several hundred white sympathizers—massed at the White House, then marched quietly through midtown Washington with signs protesting racial discrimination—both local and national. The march ended at the Justice Department, where Attorney General Robert Kennedy congratulated the marchers on their peaceful demonstration and assured them the Government is trying to speed integration and improve Negro job opportunities.

Negro leaders began talking of a massive "sit-in" demonstration at the Capitol and a nationwide campaign of "civil disobedience" if Congress balks at the President's civil-rights program.

Integration by force. The showdown at the University of Alabama was the third time the Federal Government has resorted to the use of troops to force school integration upon a State.

At Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 24, 1957, President Eisenhower sent troops to compel the admission of nine Negroes to a formerly all-white high school.

At Oxford, Miss., on Sept. 30, 1962, President Kennedy sent troops to compel the admission of one Negro to the University of Mississippi. Two persons were killed and scores injured in the rioting at Oxford. A second Negro now has joined the first at "Ole Miss." U.S. troops still stand guard near that campus.

With Negroes in the University of Alabama, every State in the South now has at least one Negro in a State college that formerly had been all-white.

Use of troops in Alabama was on a much smaller scale than in Mississippi. Into Mississippi, President Kennedy sent 16,000 troops. The entire town of Oxford was put under military control.

At Tuscaloosa, only about 100 troops took part in the integration of Alabama University. The troops used were units of the Alabama National Guard, called into federal service by the President on that same day. Although 18,000 Guardsmen were federalized, it was merely a "token" force that was actually used.

Drama at the doorway. The troops were called upon after Alabama's Governor George C. Wallace temporarily blocked the registration of the Negroes by standing in the doorway.

When federal authorities approached at midmorning—without troops—and asked him to step aside, the Governor refused. He read a statement asserting the legal basis for his action and challenging the legal basis for the Federal Government's action.

U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of the President, chose not to meet this challenge with a court test by arresting the Governor. Instead, the Federal Government turned again to the use of troops.

A few hours after being turned away by the Governor, the federal authorities returned—this time backed by troops.

Force and retreat. Governor Wallace had stated earlier that he would offer no physical resistance to federal force. When that force was used, he stepped aside. Then the Negroes, escorted by U.S. marshals, entered the building unmolested and enrolled. By midafternoon, the whole affair was over.

There was no demonstration from the few hundred students who watched the proceedings. About 800 State police, summoned by the Governor, guarded the campus, kept outsiders away. Alabamians complied with Governor Wallace's injunction that "We must have no violence.

Next day, the 20-year-old Negro students—Vivian Malone and James A. Hood—began attending classes.

Then, on June 13, another Negro entered the University of Alabama—not at Tuscaloosa, but at the university's extension center in Huntsville.

The integration at Huntsville was anticlimactic. There were no troops. None were needed. Dave Mack McGlathery, 27, walked alone to the registration center and enrolled without incident.

Mr. McGlathery, a mathematician employed at the Government's Space Flight Center in Huntsville, enrolled for graduate study. The two Negroes enrolled on the main campus are undergraduates.

This was not the first integration at Alabama University. In 1956, Autherine Lucy, a Negro, was enrolled under a federal-court order. But mob violence drove her off the campus. Then she was expelled for accusing university officials of conspiring with the mobs.

There are six State colleges in Alabama that are still all-white in enrollment. The State maintains two colleges for Negroes, with 3,500 total enrollment, and 2,500 other Negroes attend Tuskegee Institute, which receives some State funds.

President's program. A few hours after reintegrating the University of Alabama, President Kennedy went on the air with his appeal to the nation and outlined his program for new federal legislation.

One new law the President wants from Congress would require that Negroes be served in business places that are open to the public. He specified such places as theaters, restaurants, hotels and retail stores.

Also to be sought are stronger laws to protect Negroes in their right to register and vote.

To speed school integration—which has dragged along at a snail's pace in the South for nine years—the President wants Congress to authorize the Federal Government to initiate lawsuits on behalf of segregated Negroes.

All these proposals are sure to encounter strong opposition in Congress.

A powerful Senator, Richard B. Russell of Georgia, has served notice that he will oppose the Kennedy Administration's civil-rights measures "with every means and resource at my command."

Senator Russell, regarded as a key spokesman for the South, issued his statement after conferring with 18 Southern Senators.

Filibuster? A filibuster against the President's program is widely predicted.

All through the week ending June 14, the Administration worked feverishly in preparation for the congressional battle that lies ahead. President Kennedy met with members of Congress from both parties and from both houses, trying to muster the votes he will need to pass his measures. He talked with former presidents Eisenhower and Truman.

At the same time, the President talked with labor union-leaders. He got their pledge to eliminate any union rules and practices that make it difficult for Negroes to qualify for skilled jobs. He then called meetings with groups of State Governors and religious leaders.

Businessmen and mayors. President Kennedy also has talked with business leaders, urging them to offer greater employment opportunities to Negroes.

At Honolulu, on June 9, the President called upon the nation's mayors, at their national conference, to bring about action by their city governments to improve the Negroes' lot.

Negro leaders, making gains, are outlining plans to step up their pressure for still more gains.

The basic demands of Negroes are for better jobs, for protection of their voting rights, for real integration of schools, in both North and South, and for breaking up segregation in housing. Their newest demand is for what Negro leaders call "compensatory positive discrimination" to help Negroes overcome the effects of "negative discrimination" against them in the past.

Outbreaks of violence have become more numerous throughout the country as Negroes grow more militant in presenting their demands.

A Negro's warning. While the killing at Jackson and the race riots at Danville and Cambridge were getting the front-page headlines, literally dozens of other disturbances were being pushed to inside pages of newspapers filled with race stories.

At the opening of hearings on civil-rights measures before the House Judiciary Committee on June 13, there came a warning from a Negro member of Congress, Representative Charles C. Diggs, Jr., (Dem.), of Michigan, said:

"If rational counsel is to prevail among the mass of Negroes, then Congress will have to give the moderates, such as myself, necessary weapons—and that means the whole civil-rights package. If the Negroes don't get their demands, they will turn to other leadership that will produce an even greater crisis than this one."

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