The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door

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The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door


By: Anonymous

Date: June 11, 1963

Source: Photo by MPI/Getty Images.

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In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court, through Brown v. Board of Education, decided that any state statute that allowed for segregation with regard to race within public schools was unconstitutional. Members of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of outlawing racial segregation based on the rationale that the "separate but equal" doctrine for public education would never provide African-American students with the same educational opportunities as those available to white students.

While campaigning for governor of Alabama as a pro-states' rights/pro-segregation candidate, U.S. politician George Wallace (1919–1998) promised that, if elected, he would physically block any attempts to integrate Alabama's all-white public school system. Upon being elected in 1962, Wallace made his inaugural speech as governor of Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Wallace stated: "In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw a line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny … and I say … segregation now … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever."

Early in 1963, a federal judge ordered that Vivian Malone and James Hood, two Alabama black students, be admitted to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa beginning the summer session of 1963. Knowing the importance of the federal order, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy personally negotiated how the process would be performed in order to ensure that the two black students were successfully enrolled, including the procedure to counter the likelihood that Wallace would not allow the representatives of the federal government to carry out the intended order.

On June 11, 1963, Wallace personally blocked the entrance door to Foster Auditorium on the main campus of the University of Alabama in order to prevent Malone and Hood from enrolling as undergraduates. A large group of national, state, and local media correspondents and photographers were present to record the historic event. State police surrounded the building and Alabama National Guard soldiers were prepared to remove Wallace physically ifherefusedtostepasidepeacefully.Standingnextto federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (1922–), who was sent on behalf of the Kennedy administration, asked Wallace to abide by the federal court order to accept court-ordered desegregation. Wallace refused the directive by countering with the constitutional right of states to operate public schools, universities, and colleges. When Katzenbach called the president to inform him of the situation, Kennedy immediately federalized the Alabama National Guard so they could legally remove Wallace with force if necessary.



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With the governor now facing federal troops, a tense confrontation was created as Wallace continued his barricade. After a few moments, however, Wallace retreated from the entrance and allowed the two students to register for classes. The deep-seated moral division within the country over desegregation was apparent that day on the campus of the University of Alabama. The incident between Wallace and Katzenbach became known as the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door. The scene on the morning of June 11, 1963, was an important event in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Because of the publicity the incident caused, Wallace was catapulted into the national focus. He completed his term as governor but, at that time, Alabama law prevented a governor from serving two consecutive terms. (The law has since been revoked.) Wallace, therefore, had his wife, Lurleen Burns Wallace, run for the gubernatorial office. She was elected governor in 1968, while Wallace himself ran unsuccessfully for the presidency. Wallace was re-elected governor of Alabama again in 1970. In 1972, he was shot and paralyzed while campaigning for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Wallace was again re-elected Alabama governor in 1974. In 1976, he unsuccessfully campaigned for a third time for the presidency. Leaving the governor's post in 1979, Wallace accepted a position at the University of Alabama. He was re-elected governor of Alabama in 1982, and retired in 1987. In the 1980s, Wallace publicly reversed his earlier racial views and asked to work with black leaders.

President Kennedy appeared on national television the night of June 11, 1963 to state that the civil rights of all citizens was an important moral issue. Before this day, Kennedy was only tentatively in support of enforcing civil rights. However, the conflict in Alabama pushed Kennedy to commit his administration to enforce civil rights. Kennedy told the people of the United States that it was the obligation of all persons to guarantee equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens. Because of the forceful way he dealt with Wallace, Kennedy became a leader within the civil rights movement. Actively guiding the country to end segregation, in June 1963, Kennedy proposed civil rights legislation.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964, less than eight months after President Kennedy was assassinated. The Act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and employment and specifically authorized the U.S. Attorney General to file lawsuits to force school desegregation. With the federal government actively enforcing Brown v. Board of Education, the end of school segregation was moving steadily forward. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, no public school in the United States was legally allowed to segregate its students.

Vivian Juanita Malone Jones (1942–2005), a transfer student from an all-black college, became the first African-American to graduate from the University of Alabama. In 1965, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business management and, subsequently, joined the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1996, Jones retired as the director of civil rights and urban affairs and director of environmental justice for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

James Hood left the University of Alabama after only two months in attendance, and transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and police administration and a master's degree in criminal justice administration, both from Michigan State University in Lansing. Hood worked four years as a deputy police chief in Detroit and then joined the administration of a technical college in Madison, Wisconsin. Hood returned to the University of Alabama in 1995 to work on his doctorate degree in higher education administration, which he was awarded on May 17, 1997.

Vivian Jones and George Wallace met again in October 1996 when the Wallace Family Foundation selected Jones to be the first recipient of the Lurleen B. Wallace Award for Courage. Wallace apologized to both Hood and Jones before he died for his actions on that day of June 11, 1963.



Carter, Dan T. The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origin of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Clark, E. Culpepper. The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation's Last Stand at the University of Alabama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Frady, Marshall. Wallace. New York: Random House, 1996.

Gaillard, Frye. The Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 2004.

Web sites

Alabama Department of Archives and History. "The 1963 Inaugural Address of Governor George C. Wallace." January 14, 1963. <> (accessed May 31, 2006).

Alabama Department of Archives and History. "Statement and Proclamation of Governor George C. Wallace, University of Alabama, June 11, 1963." <> (accessed May 31, 2006).

Allison Carter, The University of Alabama. "James Hood: Still Working for Equality." <> (accessed May 31, 2006).

Debbie Elliott, National Public Radio. "Wallace in the Schoolhouse Door: Marking the 40th Anniversary of Alabama's Civil Rights Standoff." <> (accessed May 31, 2006).

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The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door

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