By House Minority Leader Craig Ford
One of the things I love about the summertime is the celebration of our country and all that our nation represents; values such as freedom and opportunity.
A couple of weeks ago, we honored our fallen men and women in uniform with Memorial Day, and in about a month we will celebrate our nation’s freedom with Independence Day.
But this week also marks the anniversary of another important moment in American history, and one that is particularly important to Alabama: the 50th anniversary of the famous “stand in the schoolhouse door.”
On June 11th, 1963, former governor George Wallace famously stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium on the campus of the University of Alabama to prevent three black students from registering for classes at the university.
The governor’s stand was largely symbolic, and meant to be a fulfillment of his campaign pledge to fight integration. In the end, Gov. Wallace stepped aside and Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood became the first African Americans to enroll at the university.
They were the first, but certainly not the last. And in the years since, several prominent African Americans have graduated from the University of Alabama. From men who made football history, like Ozzie Newsome, Jr., John Mitchell, Jr. and Sylvester Croom, to Olympic gold medalist Lillie Leatherwood, state Senator Michael Figures, and businessmen like Donald Watkins and Andre Taylor to name a few, there have been many notable African Americans who have come out of the University of Alabama.
And because of the integration at Alabama, schools like Auburn University also began accepting African Americans who have made significant impact on history, such as Bo Jackson, Cam Newton, Charles Barkley, Gen. Lloyd James Austin, III (the last commanding general of U.S, forces in Iraq) and Grammy-winning artist Lionel Richie and Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer.
Where would our country and our state be had these men and women not have had the opportunity to receive a college or graduate education in Alabama?
Two years before she died, Vivian Malone Jones said in an interview that she hoped history would remember June 11th, 1963 as a day when the doors were opened rather than an attempt to close the doors.
Part of what makes America great is that we are the “land of opportunity.” That opportunity exists not just because of the freedoms we have in this country, but also because of the quality public education we provide to our children.
Because of heroes like Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood, no one in this country can be denied access to an education on the grounds of their race.
But in Alabama, hundreds-of-thousands of children are seeing their opportunities slip away because their public schools are under attack from the state legislature.
Since the Republican Supermajority took control of Montgomery, they have used their absolute power to ram through a radical, anti-education agenda that has abandoned our public schools in favor of taxpayer-funded vouchers and undermined our educators and the successes they have been achieving in the classroom.
So as we reflect this Tuesday on the 50th anniversary of the stand in the schoolhouse door, let’s keep in mind what Vivian Malone Jones said that day was all about: the opening of the doors rather than the attempt to keep them closed. And let us renew our commitment to providing all Alabama’s children with an “open door” to a quality education to that our children can have the opportunities they deserve.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.