OPEN DOORS: 60 years of desegregation at UA

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Four wreaths were laid in remembrance of June 11, 1963. (The University of Alabama)

On June 11th, 2023, a pair of old white doors stood in the modern interior of Foster Auditorium at The University of Alabama. With peeling paint and fading colors, the doors may at first glance seem ordinary. Yet 60 years prior, two African American students surrounded by the National Guard forced their way through these very doors to enroll at The University of Alabama.

This year the university celebrates 60 years of desegregation, to remember the resilience of Vivian Malone and James Hood on June 11, 1963: the day the white doors flung open. Keep reading to learn more. 

A day to remember

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The observance ceremony took place at Bryant Conference Center. (The University of Alabama/ The Bama Buzz)

On June 11th 2023 at 11:30AM, the UA Black Alumni Association hosted an event commemorating 60 years “Beyond the Doors.” The event took place in Foster Auditorium– the same building where Vivian Malone and James Hood enrolled at the University of Alabama in 1963.

From the wreath-laying ceremony to a speech by Black Alumni Association President Derek Cunningham, participants were called to remember and reflect on the events of June 11th. Following the celebration, on June 12th, a group screening and discussion on the documentary, Crisis, took place in Foster Auditorium.

All these events served to remember June 11th, 1963 and reflect on the progress made in the 60 years since.

Beyond the doors

The original doors were showcased in the lobby of Foster Auditorium. (L: Morgan Byerley/ The Bama Buzz, R: The University of Alabama)

June 11th, 1963 wasn’t the first time an African American student tried to attend the University of Alabama. In 1956, Autherine J. Lucy was admitted, but expelled three days later due to threats and violence from a mob.

After being temporarily blocked by Governor George Wallace, Vivian Malone and James Hood became the first African American students to successfully enroll at the University of Alabama. Their enrollment marked the successful integration of the university and had profound effects on the history of Alabama and the nation.

Later that day, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation in a public address saying, “It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.”

One week later, a civil rights bill was submitted that would become the foundation for the Bill of Rights. The events of June 11th, 1963 marked progress not only for The University of Alabama but for the nation as well. 37 years after her enrollment, Vivian Malone Jones returned to The University of Alabama to present a commencement speech, challenging the graduating class to walk through challenging doors.

“So take from all the books you have read, all the lessons you have learned, the certain knowledge that one day, any day, you must be bold, have courage, and walk through a door that leads to opportunity for others.”

Vivian Malone Jones

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Morgan Byerley
Morgan Byerley
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