The University of Alabama’s Road to Integration

By: Ashlee Riopka, Junior Editor

In 1831, the University of Alabama was formally organized as the state’s flagship institution of higher learning. [1]  Although the article and statute creating the University never referenced segregation, the University’s trustees remained obedient to the provision in the 1901 Alabama Constitution requiring that  “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.” [2]  It wasn’t until 1952, over a hundred years after the University’s founding, that two African American applicants sought admission. [3]  The two applicants, Autherine Lucy and Polly Ann Myers, applied to pursue graduate degrees at the University, and eventually sought court intervention. [4]   Under direction from the Board of Trustees, the University deferred from acting on the applications, suggesting instead that the two women “find courses in subjects desired by them at Tuskegee Institution and the Alabama State College at Montgomery.” [5] 

While the women waited for action to be taken on their pending applications, the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education was decided in which the Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, and held that state laws establishing separate schools for black and white students was unconstitutional. [6]  Brown’s wake prompted an equitable resolution and in 1955, the District Court for the Northern District of Alabama enjoined the University from denying Lucy and Meyers or other similarly situated  individuals from “the right to enroll in the University of Alabama and pursue courses of study, solely on account of their race or color.” [7]  As a result of the district court decision, the Board voted to permit one litigant’s enrollment at the University. 

In February of 1956, Autherine Lucy enrolled and attended the first three days of classes, despite the board’s denial of her dorm and dining privileges. [8]  Lucy’s admission incited violent reprisal from members of the community and the student body.  Angry mobs gathered to chant racist epithets and throw gravel and eggs at Lucy, ultimately necessitating police escort. [9]  In response to the enraged mob, the Board opted to suspend Lucy and cited safety concerns in support of its decision. [10]  Despite a court order requiring termination of Lucy’s suspension, the University’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution for Lucy’s permanent expulsion due to statements in her pleadings regarding her belief that University officials conspired in violating the district court’s order requiring her admission. [11] Although Lucy was expelled, her initial admission laid the formative groundwork for the University’s “sustained desegregation” seven years later. [12] 

Before sustained desegregation took hold in Alabama’s higher education institutions, George Wallace—one of the most controversial politicians in American history—was elected governor of Alabama in 1962. [13]  Wallace made segregation the centerpiece of his campaign, and echoed this focus in his inaugural speech, declaring his support for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, [and] segregation forever.” [14] Wallace gained rampant notoriety for his inaugural speech, particularly due to his vehement vow to “stand in the schoolhouse door” and prevent federal integration efforts from bleeding into Alabama’s universities. [15]  However, in 1963, Wallace’s vow to prevent integration efforts would be sharply tested.  That year, two students, Jimmy Hood and Vivian Malone, applied for admission into the University of Alabama’s main campus. [16] Hood and Malone were scheduled to enroll on June 11, 1963.  [17] On the morning of June 11, 1963, Wallace, surrounded by state troopers, positioned himself outside the doors of Foster Auditorium, ready to resist Hood and Malone’s enrollment efforts through an action of symbolic opposition. [18]  Wallace’s attempt to thwart Hood and Malone’s enrollment efforts would ultimately solidify his “nationwide reputation for white resistance.”  [19]

Anticipating Wallace’s resistance, President John F. Kennedy issued proclamation 3542, directing Wallace to comply with former court orders allowing Hood and Malone’s enrollment. [20]  Before Hood and Malone’s arrival, the U.S. Deputy Attorney General arrived to confront Wallace with Kennedy’s proclamation, accompanied by federal marshals and a federalized National Guard. [21]  After the U.S. Deputy Attorney General requested Wallace’s compliance with the proclamation, Wallace delivered a speech that appealed to federalist sentiments. [22]  Wallace stated in part:


“The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the Central Government offers a frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this state by officers of the Federal Government . . . I stand here today, as Governor of this sovereign state, and refuse to willingly submit to illegal usurpation of power by the Central Government.  I claim today for all the people of the State of Alabama those rights reserved to them under the Constitution of the United States.  Among those powers so reserved and claimed is the right of state authority in the operation of the public schools, colleges, and Universities.” [23]


In his response to Wallace’s impassioned rhetoric, the U.S. Deputy Attorney General subtly mocked Wallace’s own campaign mantra when he stated, “Those students will remain on this campus.  They will register today.  They will go to school tomorrow.” [24]   After the Deputy Attorney General’s response, the Governor remained stationed outside Foster Auditorium until a few hours later when General Graham of the Alabama National Guard approached Wallace, in his federalized capacity, and acknowledged that it was his “sad duty” to require Wallace’s compliance. [25]  After acknowledging that Graham’s duty was “a bitter pill . . . to swallow,” Wallace finally yielded to federal pressure and stepped aside to allow Hood and Malone’s enrollment. [26]  Years later, Wallace later expressed regret for his segregationalist stance, stating: “I was wrong . . . Those days are over and they ought to be over.” [32]  While Wallace’s repentance served as a mildly authentic example of the regenerative nature of human perception, his symbolic stand in 1963 would “plague him politically” for the remainder of his career. [33]        

The event that transpired on June 11, 1963 marked a significant turning point in Alabama’s civil rights history and paved the way for other African American students to attend the University.  In fact, the following day, another African American student, Dave McGlathery, was able to enroll at the University of Alabama in Huntsville without similar opposition. [27]  By 1965, thirty-one black students were enrolled at the University, and just two years later this number increased to 119 black students among the population of 12,251 students. [28]  Malone became the first African American to graduate from the University in 1965, and later worked for the civil right’s division of the U.S. Department of Justice [29], and in 1988, the University finally overturned Autherine Lucy’s expulsion, allowing her to return to the University and graduate with a master’s degree in 1992. [30]  Although Hood withdrew not long after his initial enrollment, he later returned to finish a doctorate degree in 1995. [31] 

The stories of these students are inspiring, and demonstrate strength and resilience in the face of overwhelming adversity.  The individual story of each student represents a unique civil rights victory, yet the legacy of the University’s road to integration is arguably two- fold. [32]  On one hand, Alabama’s initial resistance to integration represents “an enduring stain on Alabama’s education record and a sad testament to the treatment of its own people.” [33]  On the other hand, Alabama’s final integration “served as a turning point for the state and its steps towards racial equality.” [33]  Even though the events leading up to the University of Alabama’s integration were rocky and politically charged, the end result’s significance is undeniable.  Ultimately, the University’s integration led to open enrollment for minority students among the majority of colleges throughout the Southern region, and opened the doors of educational opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, serving to heighten the educational experience of all students. [34]   


[1] U.S. v. State of Alabama, 628 F.Supp. 1137 (1985).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.


[5] U.S. v. State of Alabama, 628 F.Supp. 1137 (1985).


[7] Id.

[8] U.S. v. State of Alabama, 628 F.Supp. 1137 (1985).

[9] E. Culpepper Clark, The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama 72-73(1993).

[10] Morris, Allen, Maurrasse & Gilbert, White Supremacy and the Higher Education: The Alabama Higher Education Desegregation Case, 14 Nat’l Black L.J. 59, 75 (1995).

[11] U.S. v. State of Alabama, 628 F.Supp. 1137 (1985)




[15] Id.,

[16] U.S. v. State of Alabama, 628 F.Supp. 1137 (1985)









[25] Id.

[26] Id.,


[28] U.S. v. State of Alabama, 628 F.Supp. 1137 (1985)



[31] Id.


[33] Id.






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