Wendell Gunn’s Legacy: 60 years since first Black student attended the University of North Alabama

WAFF 48 Aria Pons Reporting
Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 5:41 PM CDT
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FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - Sixty years ago today, one student decided he was going to change the course of history in Florence just by applying to college.

Wendell Gunn was the first Black student to attend what is now the University of North Alabama.

”No, no, I knew heroes and I wasn’t one of them,” Dr. Gunn insisted.

Even 60 years and many celebrations later, Dr. Wendell Gunn is still as humble as ever.. He said it is hard to believe that people look up to him when he was just trying to go to school.

“I was so sure after I came here that within a few years, black and white for skin color would be no more important than tall, short, fat, skinny,” Dr. Gunn said.

Gunn was told when he first applied to the school that he would not be admitted. He was also threatened several times just for applying, but he wasn’t going to back down. He wrote a letter to school President E. B. Norton and put it, along with an application, on his desk. After that, he was enrolled. His first day was Sept. 11, 1963.

He says it was not easy. He continued to get threats, including one phone call the night President Kennedy was assassinated.

“Somebody called me that night and said ‘you’re next,’” Dr. Gunn said.

But Dr. Gunn held his ground and continued his education. Now, he is remembered as the reason the doors to UNA and other area schools were opened to many more people in the surrounding area.

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