Author discusses significance of stand

Today marks Foster Auditorium’s rededication following years of disuse.

Foster Auditorium, constructed in 1939, has historically been a venue for large events on campus, ranging from basketball games to student registration before the years of Internet registration. Plans for renovation began in 2009 and they were completed this fall.

Autherine Lucy and James Hood, two of the pioneers of the desegregation struggle at the University, will discuss the challenges they faced tomorrow at the Ferguson Center Ballroom. Lucy was the first black student to attend the University. She enrolled in 1956 as a graduate student. Though admitted, student protests led to her suspension for her own safety. The suspension was appealed, but Lucy was eventually expelled. The expulsion was overturned in 1980, 24 years after the initial decision.

Lucy and Hood will be joined by the family of Vivian Malone Jones, who, with Hood, helped integrate the University in 1963.

E. Culpepper Clark, known by many as “Cully,” will moderate the discussion. Clark is the former dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences and author of "The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation's Last Stand at the University of Alabama," a history and explanation of George Wallace’s famous protest at Foster Auditorium.

In June 1963, then-Gov. George Wallace blocked the doors of Foster Auditorium to stop Hood and Jones from entering, though the Supreme Court ruled the segregation of public institutions unconstitutional. However, Wallace cited states’ rights and protested the decision. President John

F. Kennedy organized the National Guard and a general commanded Wallace to move aside.

Clark said even in 2010, the auditorium’s historical and symbolic significance for the Civil Rights Movement is still present.

“There’s not a historical moment, such as [Wallace’s stand], that doesn’t have a lasting legacy because of the change that it represented,” Clark said. “It would be like saying, ‘Well, we couldn’t memorialize Gettysburg.’”

Clark said growing up in the racially-charged Southeast inspired him to research the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation, particularly at the University.

“When I was growing up in South Georgia with my buddies in the seventh grade, we were chanting ‘2-4-6-8 we ain’t gonna integrate,’” Clark said. He also mentioned a derogatory chant targeting Autherine Lucy.

“That little bit of childhood shame caused me, when I came to Alabama in 1971, to find out who Autherine Lucy was,” Clark said.

Clark’s search led him to Malone and Hood, the black students whose plans of registration provoked Wallace’s famous actions. Both were admitted that same day.

The significance of the event, Clark said, is clearly seen by its depiction in the 1994 film Forrest Gump. In the film, the titular character is present throughout many important events in 20th century American history, including Wallace’s stand.

“When the movie Forrest Gump was done, they included that scene in the movie, but it’s not in the book,” Clark said. “Hollywood knew how important [and] how significant that scene was in understanding the history of the South, race relations, the history of Alabama and the University of Alabama.

“That gives you a sense of how strongly etched that is in the public mind, of how powerful that symbol is in the public mind,” he said.

Wallace’s stand served as the last big push for segregation in public systems, Clark said.

“The vestiges of segregation continue to this day, but in terms of segregation in the legal system, that was the last effort to maintain segregation,” he said. “We certainly have the Selma March in ‘65 and there were other instances and evidence, but the sense that we could actually maintain segregation was gone.

“The fact that Wallace had to step down that day was significant.”

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