June 11, 1963: the University of Alabama desegregated by executive order
In one of the most historic moments in Civil Rights history, two Black students—James Hood and Vivian Malone—walked through the doors of the University of Alabama to enroll. This moment on June 6th, 1963 wasn’t only a monumental leap for young Black citizens during the Civil Rights Movement. It was also the culmination of a months-long battle against Alabama’s governor who was intent on keeping Alabama segregated.
The anti-integrationist from Hell
When George Wallace was elected governor of Alabama in 1962, his platform promised an ultra-conservative future. His inauguration speech echoed a frightening phrase for Civil Rights activists in Alabama: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” The nutty governor was less than happy with the progress made during the Civil Rights Movement. Luckily, the progressive plan to integrate America gained support on a federal level. President John F. Kennedy was a notorious liberal, believing in equal rights for all under the Consitution. When the Supreme Court found segregation in schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, schools and universities across the country were forced to desegregate. However, Alabama resisted moving out of the 1950s.
Wallace’s major meltdown over integration
It’s no secret that Alabama is a conservative state. This was no different in the early 1960s, especially under the direction of the uber-conservative George Wallace. Wallace had a major meltdown over the Supreme Court’s decision to integrate schools. In the midst of his meltdown, he tried to prevent any Black students from attending the University of Alabama. So, what did he do when two Black students attempted to enter the school? He organized a stand-in. During what is now known as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” Wallace and a few of his goons stood outside of the doors of Foster Auditorium on June 11th, 1963. They tried to block Black students from enrolling in the university. Fortunately, Kennedy got word of Wallace’s hissy fit over the new integration law—and he wasn’t a fan.
Forcing Wallace to break his stand-in
Kennedy was forced to send the Alabama National Guard to confront Wallace. They intended to boot him out of the auditorium’s doorway to let Black students pass through and enroll. At first, Wallace put up a futile fight against the National Guard. He tried to claim that it was his jurisdiction and that the people of Alabama didn’t want integration. However, his excuses fell on deaf ears. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach continually asked the governor to move aside. After much protest and whining, Katzenbach said, “it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the President of the United States.” Wallace was forced to break his stand-in and allow James Hood and Vivian Malone to pass through the auditorium doors, enroll in the university, and make immediate history.