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Schoolhouse door stand was a farce

By Staff
Alabama Scene, Bob Ingram
MONTGOMERY—-The death of Vivian Malone Jones a few days ago brought back a tidal wave of memories for this newsman.
As you surely know, she was one of two young blacks…the other was James Hood of Gadsden…who were the first of their race to enroll at the University of Alabama despite a “stand in the door” by Gov. George C. Wallace.
This story, this historic story, actually began in March, 1962, when Wallace kicked off his campaign for governor at City Hall in Montgomery.
Wallace made a rip-snorting speech of defiance and almost in passing said if necessary “I will stand in the school house door” to preserve segregated classrooms.
I remain convinced to this day that he made that promise simply to underscore how strongly he felt and that the idea of physically standing in the door was the furtherest thought from his mind. I asked Wallace about this a number of times in later years…he never answered my question, he only grinned.
However, the press picked up on the quote…his supporters loved it…and he used it so often in later campaign speeches he had no choice but to stand in the door.
It was on June 11, 1963, that he made that stand. I remember it well. I was there, no more than 15 feet from where Wallace stood. If you looked closely at the TV coverage of that event you will catch a glimpse of a flat-bellied, dark-haired man taking notes. That’s me. And for the record I am no longer flat-bellied or dark-haired.
The stand itself was a charade. Both sides knew in advance how it would end…Wallace would turn away the students and make his speech, then the Alabama National Guard would be federalized, he would be told to step aside, and he would.
That is precisely how it played out. After refusing to step aside when asked to do so by Assistant U. S. Atty. Gen. Nicholas Katzenbach, the two students departed. But three hours later, after the Alabama National Guard had been federalized, Wallace was confronted by Brig. Gen. Henry Graham of the Alabama National Guard…who ironically had served as Adjutant General during the administration of Gov. John Patterson.
I will never forget the words spoken by Gen. Graham. After saluting the governor he said: “Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under orders of the President of the United States.”
Wallace returned the salute, made a few brief remarks, and then almost ran to a nearby car and left the campus.
An almost amusing sidebar to the end of that historic day. Wallace was driven to the airport to return to Montgomery on the Air National Guard C-47 which he had flown to Tuscaloosa. However he was told that since the Guard had been federalized he was no longer Commander in Chief therefore he was not entitled to use the plane. He rode back to Montgomery in a state trooper car.
While the “stand in the door” was a charade it served Wallace’s purposes well. On that day he ceased to be just another Southern governor who opposed segregation…he became the national symbol of that resistance.
It eventually resulted in him making three campaigns for President.
For the record, Vivian Malone Jones remained at the University and became its first black graduate. James Hood was expelled a few months later but decades later…in 1995…he enrolled at the University where he earned a doctorate degree in philosophy.
Both Jones and Malone years later met with Wallace where he apologized to them for his stand on that unbearably hot day in 1963.
A prediction on the 2006 gubernatorial campaigns months in advance of the primaries:
There will be no run-off for governor in either the Democrat or Republican primaries. That’s my prediction. The likelihood of any other facecard candidates getting into either of the primaries is slim and none—-on the Democrat ballot will be Baxley vs. Siegelman, on the Republican ballot it will be Riley vs. Moore.
It is improbable that any of what I call the run-for-the-fun-of-it candidates in either primary will draw enough votes to deny a majority to Baxley-Siegelman or Riley-Moore.
This will come as bad news to stockholders in TV stations in Alabama, because without a runoff in either of the gubernatorial campaigns there will be a loss in advertising revenue. But the TV folks will make up for it in the General Election.