There are some painful things from my childhood in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala., that I will never forget. At the top of the list is Gov. George C. Wallace's June 11, 1963 "Stand in the School House Door" at the University of Alabama. I had just completed my sophomore year at Druid High School when Wallace came to my hometown to prevent two African Americans – Vivian Malone and James Hood – from registering for classes at Foster Auditorium.
In his inaugural address as governor, Wallace had promised, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." In an attempt to maintain segregation, Wallace showboated at the university with a state's rights speech in which he had the gall to mention that the federal government was formed on the premise that "individuals are endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and property..." Of course, he was referring to White individuals, not people who looked like me.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to step aside and allow Malone and Hood to register. After Wallace refused, Katzenbach left and placed a call to President John F. Kennedy. The president federalized the Alabama National Guard and Katzenbach returned later in the day with Gen. Henry Graham, who was now under federal command.