Saturday, November 04, 2006

Integration Memories Part II Stand in the Schoolhouse Door

When I graduated from Phillips, I went to the University of Alabama as a Chemistry Major. I was madly in love at the time and determined to graduate as quickly as possible, so we could get married as soon as I graduated. Freshmen were not allowed to have cars on campus at that time, and I didn't have a car, anyway, so I rode the bus home every weekend to date. That meant I really didn't have a social life on campus. I went to class, studied my head off from a full class load, and slept. That was about it. I took classes in the summer at UAB and Samford in Birmingham, and even one by correspondence, so that I graduated in 3 years, instead of 4.

But integration caught up with me again in college. I was there when Governor Wallace made his famous Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, in an attempt to bar two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from entering the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. I watched as Governor Wallace made his speech, then stepped aside, as the National Guard escorted them into Foster Auditorium to register. I could see the steps of Foster Auditorium from the windows of my dorm, which has long since been torn down.

I was supposed to go to classes on campus that summer, but Mama and Daddy remembered how much trouble there had been when Autherine Lucy had tried to enroll in 1956. So I went to Samford that summer, instead.

The University had made every effort to see to it that they would both be safe. James Hood was housed in the Athletic dorm, where the staff would be able to provide close supervision, and the athletes had every reason to follow the rules. Vivian was given a dorm monitor's suite, usually used by graduate students, so she would have her own bathroom. Both students were followed by guards everywhere on campus until it was no longer considered to be necessary.

There may have been some incidents on campus, but I don't remember any. The time was ripe for them to be there. All the girls who lived in dorms ate in the cafeteria in the dorm that Vivian lived in, so I did see her from time to time. I knew a few girls who were friends with her, but mostly I was too busy studying and going to classes and lots of labs to be involved with the whole deal. I do remember being in an elevator with her once on campus and feeling strange, like I should say something, but stupid, like why should I speak to a total stranger, black or white.

So my life continued to cross paths with the Civil Rights Movement, as it would again several more times.


Sheila said...

Rosemary, that's interesting. Both my husband and I are two-time Bama graduates. While I was in law school in the late '70s, he was the alumni magazine editor and had a chance to interview Vivian Malone Jones who was working for the EPA in Atlanta. Even when we were at the University, barriers were still being broken. We saw George Wallace escort a black homecoming queen during halftime festivities, and Cleo Thomas got elected as the first black Student Government president. In my husband's job as editor, he interviewed lots of folks concerning the time you wrote about including Frank Rose who was the University president. One of his favorite stories, however, was the one he wrote about Judge Frank Johnson, the federal judge behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott and nearly every other civil rights case during these tumultuous times. Along with Vivian Malone Jones, he was one of the most remarkable figures of this time. Ironically, he was a law-school classmate of George Wallace. Wallace tried to apologize to Judge Johnson, but Johnson refused, saying, "If George Wallace wants forgiveness, he's going to have to ask the Lord."

Dirty Butter said...

Wow, a lot changed in a decade, Sheila! It's hard to imagine the Wallace of '63 escorting a Black homecoming queen in the 70's. Why, it's hard to imagine that a decade was enough for there to be a Black homecoming queen! Well, I said the time was ripe.

Sounds like your hubby had the chance of a lifetime to meet some of the most influential people of our day.

CyberCelt said...

Here very late for Click and Comment Monday.

They integrated my high school in 1966. No problems. When they integrated the junior high, they had race riots.

It seemed to me if the parents were okay with the deal, then the kids were okay. The trouble started when parents started trying to block students from coming off the bus.

We have come a long way, even though it does not seem that way at times.

Dirty Butter said...

I also think parents had more trouble with younger children being integrated than the older ones, because they realized that the younger ones would accept the Black children as equals. And that was something the parents weren't ready for. Thanks for stopping by, cybercelt, late or not. LOL

Chana said...

it is amazing to me how you lived of the most amazing events in US history and you were right there..

the stories you can tell are just amazing and you tell them so well.

i had come to check and had only seen part 1..i am glad i got to read more of your life and studies in the midst of all that went on.

i can only imagine how heavy your load was. with that major and doing it in 3! impressive..

Dirty Butter said...

I really did live right at the cutting edge of the sea change of the whole Civil Rights movement in our part of the country, Chana. I've had plenty of practice telling these stories, as I always used them to make this era real for my students, Black and White, who had never known this kind of discrimination, thank goodness.

As for the class load, you're right. It was extremely heavy, but as I said, all I did was go to class and labs, study, eat, and sleep.