HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - This week, Alabama's first school to integrate opened its doors to 200 children for the new school year.
St. Joseph's Holy Family Catholic School in Huntsville became the first school in Alabama to integrate in 1963. Seven white families sent their children to the black school.
On September 3, 12 white children joined a black student body of roughly 60 students. Principal Billy Roy said there was little fanfare or protest.
"Permission was granted, and they came in with no muss and no fuss, it just went under the radar," Roy said.
The schools' integration came just eight months after Alabama Gov. George Wallace gave his inaugural "segregation forever" speech, and a year before the Civil Rights Act was enacted.
"[Segregation] wasn't right, and people knew in their hearts it wasn't right. I believe when people know in their hearts things are not right, it agitates them," Roy said.
St. Joseph's Catholic Church opened in 1950 and the school opened in 1956, with exclusively white priests preaching to a black community.
The Rev. Joseph Lubrano, school administrator and pastor, said that dynamic created a culture of acceptance.
"There was very quickly a, I guess we could say a love affair. The priests and brothers loved this community, and this community loved them," he said.
This week a diverse student body returned to the K-8 private school. Roy said the student body is a third Caucasian, African American and Hispanic with a broad socioeconomic spectrum.
He said uniforms and expectations help bridge the gaps.
"For instance this week we're all getting a little tired, we're all getting a little grumpy, then we need to make the extra effort to be kind. To show one another love, to show Christ's love to another," he said.
Lubrano said part of the school's mission is to help spread a culture of acceptance to a integrated, yet oftentimes unforgiving country.
"I wish a law could make things change, but I don't think that's going to happen. But I think one person to another person to another person, kindness, compassion, mercy, love, I think, and forgiveness, that's what changes people," he said.
The students at Holy Family have a lifetime of challenges ahead of them, but a school with a legacy of change to help them overcome.
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