From Pain to Pride to Pedadogy: Alabama’s Schoolhouse Door as a Strategy for Teaching

Today in Tuscaloosa history was made as the place of the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” involving the late Governor George Wallace was officially dedicated as the University of Alabama’s new Malone-Hood Plaza.

The plaza, which includes the Autherine Lucy Clock Tower, named for the first African American student who attempted to enroll here at the University in 1956, has just recently become a center of activity as the building where it’s located, Foster Auditorium has reopened after it was re-modeled to house women’s athletic programs.

The adjective “infamous” has often been attached to Foster Auditorium because it is where members of the National Guard were called in as a governor attempted to block the admission of the late Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood to the University in 1963.   Thankfully, Governor Wallace was not successful.

The brief confrontation, which sparked national media attention, presented one of the South’s best universities with a bit of a black eye.  And, for many, it was a painful experience they would rather forget.

Still, up until this year, this spot on the Tuscaloosa campus of 30,000 students has been absent from the places of which many are most proud. No more. The pain associated with change that happened at Foster Auditorium and all across the South in the 1960s has been replaced with pride because of what the admission of Malone, Hood and Lucy meant for opportunities for African Americans in Alabama and around the country.

I was in class at the time of today’s dedicatory activities for the Malone-Hood Plaza. But, I used the occasion of the dedication of this public space as a teaching tool, a strategy I hope many of my University of Alabama faculty colleagues will employ as we move forward beyond November 3, 2010.  Educating prospective and current students and faculty about the significance of Foster Auditorium will be a little bit easier now.

As I thought about the events of today, another reality came to mind.


My Fall 2010 JN 325 multimedia journalism class is also the most racially diverse multimedia journalism class I’ve ever taught in my eight years at the university. Of the 16 students enrolled in this lecture-lab course, five are African-American, one of whom is the second African-American editor in the history of the campus daily newspaper, The Crimson White.

Some members of the class were featured in an Aug. 18 news report by Birmingham television station WIAT CBS 42.

The racial background of the students has never come up in our classroom discussion. And, why should it? The class is not a class about race or diversity right?


While a student’s racial background is not necessarily important, every class should embrace diversity as a component of everyday teaching and learning. In fact, we’ve already had a unit on reporting on diverse audiences. On Monday, November 8, this class will present a University-wide program to the  on Latino depictions in the media as they have been part of a national project evaluating media coverage of immigration.

The trailblazing that Autherine Lucy, Vivian Malone and James Hood did almost 50 years ago has resulted in teaching and learning experiences like I have today.   That’s the TRUE significance of a Malone-Hood plaza.. to pay tribute to those who started the journey to the rich, diverse learning environments we have in the 21st century.


Today’s lesson was on how to use our new pocket video cameras to shoot an interview story.   I was the guinea pig for their first video interviews and I used that opportunity for answer questions about the significance of the opening of the Malone-Hood Plaza.

The student who volunteered to ask the questions (without a script, I might add) didn’t hesitate to ask about the role of race in her “framing” of her questions.   We also talked about the importance of understanding why Foster Auditorium is a landmark worth visiting when one comes to our beautiful campus.

My answers became an opportunity to share with a new generation of students the significance of  now Dr. James Hood, Mrs. Autherine Lucy Foster and relatives of the late Vivian Malone Jones being on campus today.  But, it was also a chance to talk about how we maintain or increase diversity in both our faculty and student ranks.


The dedication of the Malone-Hood Plaza is over.  But, as we look ahead the public space is an ideal conversation starter for visitors to the campus.  It also is an opportunity for those of us who teach to develop pedagogy strategies that educate students about this period in our university’s history.

Even before the plaza was under construction, in Spring 2010, I invited the plaza’s architect to visit our diversity class and discuss what factors went into designing the space.  Students who watched a documentary about the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” were challenged to write about their reactions to the plans for the Plaza.  They also were introduced to the public debate that occurred in the pages of the local newspaper.

Next semester, as I teach that same diversity course, we’ll be journeying to the Plaza for an “on-location” class so that students can see and appreciate this public space that means so much to what makes this University great.   Our mindset has changed from pain to pride and now in the way we teach (pedagogy).

The end result: the legacy of  determination, courage, and excellence in Vivian Malone Jones, Autherine Lucy and James Hood can be transferred to another generation of students who appreciate the accomplishments of these UA alumni nearly a half-century ago.


Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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