BY WALTER OPINDE
On 11th June, 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood arrived at the University of Alabama registration building. The building was guarded by 750 state troopers, local police, Alabama National Guardsmen, and George Wallace who stood at the doors to block the entrance. Wallace was given a ‘cease and desist’ order by Attorney General Katzenback sent by President Kennedy. After much debate between Katzenback and Wallace, the two students were escorted to the front of the auditorium by Brigadier General Henry Graham of the National Guard. Malone and Hood registered for classes that day, making Alabama the 50th state in the union to desegregate its public school system.
Hood and Vivian Malone Jones, attempted to register and pay fees on 11th June, 1963, at the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium, accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. Governor George Wallace, surrounded by a phalanx of state troopers, barred them, attempting to keep his infamous inaugural promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Later that day, Wallace backed down after President John F. Kennedy federalized the National Guard.
George Wallace, one of the most controversial politicians in U.S. history, was elected governor of Alabama in 1962 under an ultra-segregationist platform. In his 1963 inaugural address, he promised his white followers: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” When the two African-American students attempted to desegregate the University, Alabama’s new governor, flanked by state troopers, literally blocked the door of the enrollment office. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, had declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, and the executive branch undertook aggressive tactics to enforce the ruling.
That moment was one of four major events in Alabama’s central part in the civil rights movement, Clark said, along with the church bombing in Birmingham later in 1963, Bloody Sunday in Selma, and the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. The image of Wallace’s protruding jaws, with the stoic defiance of the students, became iconic.
Unfortunately, Hood would later drop out of the university due to certain personal circumstances, but Vivian, on the 30th day of May, 1965, entered the historical records for being the first African-American to graduate from the University of Alabama, after 134 years of the university’s existence. She earned her Degree in Business Management with a B+ (plus) average grade. Upon her graduation, Vivian could not easily find a job in Alabama. Therefore, she travelled to Washington, D.C. where she worked at the civil rights division of the Justice Department. She later became the director of urban affairs and civil rights advocate, and later, the Director of the Environmental Justice at the Environmental Protection Agency.
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