The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door took place at Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, in a symbolic attempt to keep his inaugural promise of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and stop the desegregation of schools, stood at the door of the auditorium to try to block the entry of two African American students: Vivian Malone and James Hood.
In response, President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 11111, which federalized the Alabama National Guard, and Guard General Henry V. Graham then commanded Wallace to step aside. Wallace then spoke further, but eventually moved, and Malone and Hood completed their registration. The incident brought Wallace into the national spotlight.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision regarding the case called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in which the plaintiffs charged that the education of black children in separate public schools from their white counterparts was unconstitutional. Brown v. Board of Education meant that the University of Alabama had to be desegregated. In the years following, hundreds of African-Americans applied for admission, but with one brief exception,[Note 1] all were denied. The University worked with police to find any disqualifying qualities, or when this failed, intimidated the applicants. But in 1963, three African-Americans —Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood—applied. In early June a federal district judge ordered that they be admitted, and forbade Governor Wallace from interfering.
On June 11, Malone and Hood pre-registered in the morning at the Birmingham courthouse. They selected their courses and filled out all their forms there. They arrived at Foster Auditorium to have their course loads reviewed by advisors and pay their fees. They remained in their vehicle as Wallace, attempting to uphold his promise as well as for political show, blocked the entrance to Foster Auditorium with the media watching. Then, flanked by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told Wallace to step aside. However, Wallace interrupted Katzenbach and gave a speech on states' rights.
Katzenbach called President John F. Kennedy, who had previously issued a presidential proclamation demanding that Wallace step aside, and told him of Wallace's actions in ignoring the proclamation as it had no legal force. In response, Kennedy issued Executive Order 11111, which had already been prepared, authorizing the federalization of the Alabama National Guard. Four hours later, Guard General Henry Graham commanded Wallace to step aside, saying, "Sir, it is my sad duty to ask you to step aside under the orders of the President of the United States." Wallace then spoke further, but eventually moved, and Malone and Hood completed their registration.
In the days following the enactment, the National Guard were ordered to remain on the campus owing to a large Ku Klux Klan contingent in the surrounding area. Wallace and Kennedy exchanged volatile telegrams over it. Wallace objected to Kennedy ordering the Guard to remain on the campus and said that Kennedy bore responsibility if something happened. Kennedy responded stating that Executive Order 11111 made it clear that responsibility for keeping the peace remained with the State Troopers under Wallace's control and said he would revoke the order if assurances were made. Wallace refused stating he would not be intimidated and cited that Executive Order 11111 was passed without his knowledge.
Executive Order 11111 was also used to ensure that the Alabama National Guard made sure that black students across the state were able to enroll at previously all-white schools. It was complemented by Executive Order 11118, which provided "assistance for removal of unlawful obstructions of justice in the State of Alabama." As of June 2020, Executive Order 11111 has not been revoked.
The incident was detailed in Robert Drew's 1963 documentary film Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment. The event was depicted in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, in which the title character appeared at the event, and in the 1997 television movie George Wallace.
In June 2012, George Wallace Jr. commented on his father's legacy, and mentioned the reference to the event in Bob Dylan's 1964 song "The Times They Are a-Changin'": "Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call. Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall." The younger Wallace said that when he was 14, he sang the song for his father and thought he saw the look of regret in his father's eyes.
This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama.
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