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Foster Auditorium
Photo from National Historic Landmarks collection
The University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa was the site of Governor George Wallace's infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” in 1963. The largely intact auditorium has been used for graduations, athletic events, concerts and lectures, and is still in use today by the university's College of Education. Built in 1939 and named for Richard Clarke Foster, president of the University of Alabama from 1937 to 1941, Foster Auditorium was designed by the renowned Birmingham architectural firm of Miller, Martin and Lewis in the Neoclassical Revival style.

Military surrounds Foster on registration day June 11, 1963 (above) and students enter Foster Auditorium
Photos from National Historic Landmarks collection

National attention was focused on Foster Auditorium on June 11th, 1963, when Governor Wallace stood in the doorway of the auditorium to prevent the registration of two black students and ensure that his motto of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” was upheld. The governor flatly refused to allow any black people into “his” school, citing the constitutional right of states to operate public schools, colleges and universities. President John F. Kennedy was called upon to intervene and did so by federalizing the Alabama National Guard and addressing the Nation on fairness and equality that evening. Governor Wallace eventually left Foster Auditorium and both students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, were allowed to enroll at the university. Ms. Malone went on to become the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama. Following the momentous events at Foster Auditorium, President Kennedy's national address called for legislation which would eventually be known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On that evening of June 11th , 1963, President Kennedy entreated,

“[t]he heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?”

It took several more years to completely desegregate America's colleges and universities. Foster Auditorium was designated a National Historic Landmark on April 5, 2005.

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