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Blugolds explore history of segregation at the University of Alabama

Every year, thousands of new freshmen fill the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus with dreams and hopes for the future. The enrollment and registration process is seamless as they embark on the next step toward their future. But as UW-Eau Claire students on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage learned, not all students in United States history have had the same seamless experience while seeking a college degree. 

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa was home to racism and segregation from its inception. Built on the backs of university-owned slaves, segregation was prominent until June 11, 1963, when two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, approached Foster Auditorium to register for classes.

While in Alabama, UW-Eau Claire students visited the University of Alabama campus and the site of the "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" where Alabama Gov. George Wallace attempted to prevent Malone and Hood from registering for classes. In response to Wallace's actions, President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to remove Wallace and allow the students to register. 

B.J. Hollars, a UW-Eau Claire assistant professor of English, was a graduate student at the University of Alabama in 2010 during the dedication of the Malone Hood Plaza, a memorial to the students who desegregated the university. The plaza also contains the Autherine Lucy clock tower dedicated to the first African-American student to enroll in classes at the university in 1956. Lucy was forced off campus by mob violence and eventually expelled for accusing university officials of conspiring with the mob. 

Hollars' experience on the Alabama campus inspired him to write a book titled "Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa," which details the university's struggle for desegregation.  

For more information about the Civil Rights Pilgrimage stop at the University of Alabama, contact Jodi Thesing-Ritter, an associate dean of students at UW-Eau Claire and Civil Rights Pilgrimage mentor, at thesinjm@uwec.edu or 715-836-3015. For more information about B.J. Hollars' experience on the campus, contact him at hollarb@uwec.edu or 715-836-2667.