UA Student Speaks About Witnessing Stand in Schoolhouse Door

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By Ashley Thompson

Today marks 50 years since the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door at the University of Alabama, when then-Governor George Wallace stood in front of two African American students trying to register for classes.

In 1963, every student was required to register for classes at Foster Auditorium. But when two black students tried to, what followed would spark national attention and give Alabama a black eye.

"We had Constitutional Law in this room that looked out over the front of Foster Auditorium and we witnessed it all," says Reginald Hamner.

Hamner was a 24-year-old law student at the university the day Governor George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse doors, blocking James Hood and Vivian Malone from entering. Hamner says he felt shame watching the incident unfold from his elevated classroom.

"Those of us who were watching it commented to one another, 'this is demagoguery at its best.' We have seen demagoguery and it's just embarrassing to the state."

After pressure from President John F. Kennedy to allow the students to enroll, Governor Wallace moved from in front of the auditorium. Hamner says at the time, he didn't realize the impact Wallace's stand would have.

"He had damaged, in my mind, a whole generation of Alabamians," he says. "I was 24-years-old back then and my peers and a lot of my associates are people who have spent the last 50 years in some way trying to contribute to the positive images in this state and to try to diminish in some way the legacy of the schoolhouse doors."

Photographing events during the Civil Rights Era was Clarence Gibbons, who spent decades with CBS News. He says being a photojournalist during such a divisive time in history was tough and says often racists would treat mistreat media covering Civil Rights events.

"We'd get halfway from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi and sometimes have to drive all the way back to Memphis to buy gas," Gibbons explains. "They wouldn't sell us gas. They wouldn't let us have water. They wouldn't let us have air in our tires."

Gibbons says traveling with CBS News opened his eyes to discrimination...and says the Civil Rights Movement helped others to recognize injustice as well.

"What we don't have, I don't think, is the racist feelings that a lot of people had in those days," he says. "There are a few here and there that hold on to that and there always will be. That's life. But I think as a general rule, I think the whole country learned a lot."

Both Vivian Malone and James Hood graduated and received degrees from the University of Alabama.

 

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