Stand in the schoolhouse door remembered 50 years later

Dr. Sonnie Hereford III
Dr. Sonnie Hereford III

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - On June 11, 1963, two black students tried to register for classes at the University of Alabama. What came next was a showdown between Governor George Wallace and Deputy U.S. Attorney Nicolas Katzenbach.

Nearly 10 years before that, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case. The court ruling determined that separate schools for black and white children was unconstitutional. That meant that the University of Alabama had to be desegregated.

Over the next nine years, hundreds of African-Americans applied to the university. They were all denied. That is until 1963, when three black people with perfect qualifications applied. On June 5, 1963, a federal district judge ordered that they had to be allowed to enroll in the school.

On June 11, 1963, James Hood and Vivian Malone went to register for classes at the Foster Auditorium at the university. Hundreds of police officers were there to control the crowds. In a symbolic stand, Governor Wallace blocked the entrance of the building. Federal marshals ordered him to move, which he eventually did. Hood and Malone were allowed to enter and register for classes. The third student admitted, Dave McGlathery, registered the following day.

Dr. Sonnie Hereford III had close ties to Vivian Malone. He was actually part of a group that selected her to apply to the University of Alabama as a transfer from Alabama A&M.

"First of all, we had to pick someone who was a brilliant student. We wanted to pick someone who was attractive," he said. "And then we especially wanted to pick someone who could hold their temper, who had a cool head."

Hereford performed Malone's physical and helped her fill out her application. It would be a couple of months before he learned that Malone had not only been accepted, but had managed to register for classes at the university.

He was in Russia, headed to the University of Moscow for some medical training seminar courses. He had to travel there to take the courses because he was not allowed to take them anywhere in the south. He asked someone on a bus there if they had heard anything about the civil rights movement in Alabama. The woman recounted Governor Wallace standing in front of the door.

"She said he read something out of a notebook and he left and they went in. When she said that, I started clapping and the other doctors started clapping too," said Hereford.

Hereford says that the road to equality has been long, but the travel was worth it. He remembers a time when black people weren't even allowed to go through the gates to watch an Alabama football game, but now they are part of a team that brings home national championships.

The University of Alabama is having a remembrance ceremony to look back on the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door that happened 50 years ago. It is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Foster Auditorium on the campus in Tuscaloosa.

Governor Robert Bentley will be there. He was a student at the university in 1963 when it happened.

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