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Black Alumni Gather to Mark School Showdown

June 12, 2003|From Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Black alumni of the University of Alabama gathered Wednesday to honor 40 years of school integration at the campus where former Gov. George C. Wallace made his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door."

A candlelight vigil and forums on racial issues were among programs marking the anniversary of Wallace's June 11, 1963, act of segregationist defiance. Largely political stagecraft, it did not stop the mostly peaceful introduction of blacks into the state's flagship educational institution.

"From this day on, let's forget if we're black or we're white. Let's say we're Alabamians and move this state forward," Gov. Bob Riley said Wednesday night as he stood in the same doorway.

Wallace's stand failed to keep two 20-year-old blacks -- Vivian Malone and James Hood -- from enrolling that day, and many others followed. With about 19,600 students, Alabama's student body is now 13% black.

Despite the numbers, the black alumni on Wednesday said there was still much work to be done.

Ray Minor, who in the 1970s was president of the Afro-American Assn., said research 10 years ago showed the number of blacks in University of Alabama classrooms had not changed much since he was a student.

"That suggests to me that things are relatively the same as they were when I was here and that people in authority here should take some steps to make things better," he said.

Outside Foster Auditorium -- the same building where Wallace made his stand and the site of several anniversary programs Wednesday -- students expressed mixed feelings about the need to be involved in the observance.

"If that were an issue right now, I would be involved in it. From what I can see, the work is finished and we're just celebrating a good decision they made 40 years ago," said Brad Young, 23, a white student from Greenville, Miss.

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