I can’t imagine sending my daughters to a college where black students have to be secluded for their own safety, or sleep by themselves in a dorm room made for two, or have to retreat to the black college down the street for entertainment and friendship.
I can’t imagine that, but it happened to Autherine Lucy, the late Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, the three black students who helped desegregate the University of Alabama.
The university embraced its history this week (Nov. 3) and dedicated the Malone-Hood Plaza and the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower near Foster Auditorium, where Gov. George C. Wallace refused to let two of the students register for school in 1963. The tower stands 40 feet tall, has open arches and features four bronze plaques, which tell the story of Lucy, Hood and Malone.
“What we need to do is to confront it honestly, say what it was, to explain its significance in American history and to recognize and honor, like we’re doing today, those with the courage to make change, to make a difference,” said Culpepper Clark, the author of The Schoolhouse Door – Segregation’s Last Stand at The University of Alabama.
Lucy said the history is “hurtful. She was accepted and enrolled in the university in 1956. She attended school for three days before university officials sent a telegram, saying it could not protect her from protestors. She was suspended and later expelled from the university.
In 1963, Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door at Foster Auditorium and at first refused to allow Malone and Hood to enter. Wallace complied and stepped aside, after Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized the National Guard to remove him. Hood later transferred to another college, and Malone became the first black student to graduate from the university in 1965.
It took some 47 years for the university to confront its history. The clock tower and the plaza will show past, current and future students how far the university has come. It is also a symbolic gesture to parents like me who simply want their children to receive an education.