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Student Desegregation in the South

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Fifty-Seven years ago, June 11th, 1963, George Wallace, the Democratic 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. The incident immediately brought Wallace into the national spotlight.

The morning of June 11th, 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 the Executive Order, 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. Here is a news report with Chet Huntley reporting on Katzenbach confronting Wallace, and Viviane Malone and Jimmy Hood are interviewed before entering to register for summer classes.

On June 11th, President Kennedy boldly addresses the nation. Kennedy proclaims that students of any color should be able to attend any college institutions that they select without force, have equal service in any locations such as hotels and restaurants, theaters and retail stores regardless of race or color, and be able to register and vote in a free election. Every American should be able to enjoy the privileges of being American. The issue that any American can't live in a free society until all of our citizens are free.

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.

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.

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