AN NJN EDITORIAL — A half-century ago Tuesday, a defiant Gov. George Wallace faced down a federalized Alabama National Guard and the tide of time, as he made his famous — or infamous — stand in the schoolhouse door.
As we now know, it was the beginning of the end of segregation in Alabama.
Wallace stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama, a few months after he had declared “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” in his inaugural speech. He defied the federal government to force the school to accept Vivian Malone and James Hood as its first black undergraduate students.
The whole affair was largely for show, as Wallace knew that President John F. Kennedy was going to federalize the Guard and push him aside. That’s precisely what happened, but Wallace made sure that his white supporters knew he had done everything he could to stand up to the despised “central government,” as he always called Washington.
It is truly amazing to see how much has changed in the intervening 50 years, at the University, in the state and in our nation.
Vivian Malone Jones went on to earn her degree, and had a long career in various posts for the U.S. government. Hood dropped out of UA after only a couple of months, but returned in the mid-1990s to get his doctorate, and was given a Ph.D. in 1997. Black students are now commonplace at the school, and one of them — Mark Ingram — won a Heisman Trophy for the Crimson Tide football team.
Blacks have now risen to high office at all levels. They have represented Alabama in Congress, sat on numerous courts, and been elected mayors of cities large and small. And who in 1963 would have thought that an African-American would have been elected president 45 years later?
Not everything has gone smoothly since then. Sadly, some of those who rose to power were not good stewards, no matter their race.
Still, we have at last reached the point where those who lead are judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.
For that, Vivian Jones and James Hood, we thank you — for making your own stand.