Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Tensions not new at UA


Racial divides have been an issue at the University since the beginning of integration efforts and Autherine Lucy’s enrollment as the first black student. Her term as a student in 1956 was short-lived, however, as the campus soon swarmed with protestors and rioters, shouting grotesque slurs because of her skin color. She was expelled due to the administration’s insistence that they could not guarantee her safety in the midst of cross burnings and Ku Klux Klan marches.

Crystalline Jones, a junior majoring in broadcast news, said while the University has come a long way from the outright and widespread prejudice against Autherine Lucy, some of the same verbal abuse they experienced still exists.

“I’m from Birmingham, a huge epicenter of the civil rights movement, and my aunt … was a civil rights activist at the time,” Jones said. “She would let college students from UA and UAB stay at her house in Birmingham, because in many cases, they were not allowed to stay on campus. In some cases, they were allowed to stay, but they experienced so many problems, such as food being thrown at them, being physically beaten up and verbal harassment that they chose to commute that distance every day.”

Around the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, the rampant displays of racism in Alabama and the South as a whole were on a global stage with a shocked audience. The Crimson White published an opinion story titled “Vox Populi-Is there really a difference?” where the author took inventory of the international shock and outrage through excerpts from three foreign newspapers.

In Communist East Germany the Berliner Zeitung published a picture of a black girl being held on the ground by three policemen with the comment, “Police boots trample on human dignity. A picture of shame for any country.”

El Diario de Mexico suggested that Soviet Premier Krushchev “grant honorable mention to Alabama racists for helping encourage Communism throughout the world.”

Finally, The Morning Post of Nigeria published this statement: “For how long must the Black Race be subjected to such indignities by men who claim to be civilized? Why complain about Russia’s role in Hungary? Why pledge to free the people of Cuba from Castro­­­­ — even though the lot of every Cuban citizen under Castro is much more enviable that that of the Negro in many parts of America?”

Tom Land, records analyst for University Archives, said after all of the political unrest of the 60s, the 70s were more of transition period into racial acceptance.

After Cleo Thomas was elected as the first — and to date, the only — black Student Government Association president in 1976, Land said the University has taken additional steps, such as creating black student organizations and electing a black Homecoming Queen, to further integrate the University.

“By the 80s we had settled into a routine of normalcy with everything more settled,” Land said. “By the 90’s everyone seemed to be trying to embrace history and move on.”

In the later decades, he said, there were still incidents of racism, but they were much more isolated and done by individuals rather than campus movements.

However, as late as 2000, Fabien Zinga, a student from the Republic of Congo who ran for SGA president, was targeted by anonymous profane threats in advance of the election, CNN reported. Zinga vividly remembered hearing a male voice on the telephone saying, “We are going to hang you from the tree.”

Land said steps have been taken to rectify the situations.

“The administration, including Dr. Witt, all acted quickly when these incidents would occur,” Land said. “They were called out for being wrong and [it was] solved. The backlash was people began complaining about having to be politically correct and claiming First Amendment rights.”

Land said he believes the administration does a lot behind the scenes to make the University a place where acceptance and diversity are a common theme.

However, Jones said she almost decided against attending UA because of an incident, known as “blackface,” which occurred during her senior year of high school.

Members of a white fraternity painted their faces and upper bodies with black paint before going to a party, and it received national news coverage.

“I was considering a number of schools, and that definitely came up,” Jones said. “A lot of people will not come to the University with these racial incidents taking place. My thoughts were that people who still think its okay to make fun of people who look like me are not going to treat me like an equal classmate.”

Despite the advances the University has made in past years, greek life still reflects a segregation of black and white.

Pat Hermann, a former English professor at the University, made integrating the greek system his crusade for more than a dozen years, The Tuscaloosa News reported in 1997. He told reporters he was tired of apologies for “apartheid,” a term for the system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa.

Hermann, who is white, had few allies among students, professors and administrators who are black. Most of them said black students aren’t being excluded from the white greek system but are simply avoiding it, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Regardless, Hermann said he passionately believed greek integration was essential.

Others, though, like Joyce B. Stallworth, former president of the UA chapter of the historically black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, disagreed. She recalled a cross burning in front of the house in 1986, shortly after the sorority moved in. She told The Chronicle that the greek system couldn’t be forced to integrate because people have not changed their attitudes.

The first black woman to join a traditionally white sorority at the University was Carla Ferguson in 2003. In 2009, Gentry McCreary, director of greek affairs, said minorities are applying to the sororities and fraternities but in small numbers. For example, out of 1600 women who went through fall recruitment in 2009, only two were black.

Another issue involving racism at the University was the unsuccessful campaign of Kendra Key for the SGA presidency in 2009. Key’s campaign, while inspirational, was destined to fail because the University is just not ready for a black, female, independent SGA president, Jones said.

“Key is highly qualified, but she fell into three categories that the University is just not ready to accept in that position,” Jones said. “I doubt all of the barriers will fall in my lifetime, and while we have come a long way from the [stand at the] schoolhouse door, the KKK and nooses, we still have a little way to go. The only way to move into the future is by being honest with ourselves and making a positive change.”

“Like many of my peers I experience a rush of several different emotions when the ‘n’ word is used, because although it is only five letters long, lives have been lost in the result of it leaving one’s lips,” Dobynes said. “I went from being furious, to ashamed that I attend a school still so stuck in the past, to afraid. This has to end. I thoroughly understand everyone’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, but these latest incidents of hate are just downright disrespectful.”

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