Speakers from UA’s Communication College take prominent roles in 50th anniversary program

While current communication studies student Tyler Merriweather told his story of his freshman year at the University of Alabama, alumni Andre Taylor and Zaneta Lowe recalled their experiences years ago at UA’s 50th anniversary of the school’s integration on June 11, 1963. All are connected to UA’s College of Communication & Information Sciences.

Andre Taylor speaks at 50th anniversary program June 11, 2013 at Foster Auditorium.

For Andre Taylor,  June 11, 1963 is remembered most as the day he, as a boy, had  a thought about enrolling at the University of Alabama.

Then, he shared his plans with his mother, plans he made decades before he would go on to become the first African American president of University of Alabama Alumni Association.

“I am having a very serendipitous moment,” Taylor said.  “It took me eight years to set foot on this campus, but I did get here.”

Taylor was one of three alumni and current students of the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) who spoke Tuesday at the 50th anniversary observance of the integration of the University of Alabama.

The event drew nearly 500 people to Foster Auditorium, where the late Alabama Governor George Wallace made his infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” June 11, 1963. Today, a plaza has been erected to honor the black students who made the University of Alabama the last flagship institution in the nation to desegregate.

Before Taylor, a public relations graduate and Vietnam War veteran , took the podium Tuesday, Zaneta Lowe, a 1997 communications graduate and Tyler Merriweather, current communication studies major and  Coca-Cola First Generation Scholar shared their more recent journeys.

Each speaker was given just five to seven minutes to address a component of the THREE pillars of the University’s 50th anniversary THROUGH THE DOORS observance: Courage, Change, Progress.

Tyler Merriweather tells his story as a first-generation college student as UA alumna and WREG-TV Memphis TV reporter Zaneta Lowe listens.


“I know what it took for me to get here,” said Merriweather, who will begin his sophomore year in the fall.  “I know that my being here I’m living the dream of many African Americans.”

Merriweather spoke of his role as a first-generation college student who is also mentoring two younger sisters even as he has maintained a 3.4 GPA in his first year as a University student, less than two years after an EF-4 tornado destroyed  his neighborhoods in both Alberta City and Holt, Ala.

“I refuse to ever be a victim of my circumstances, but always victorious in them.” he said.


In sharp contrast to Merriweather’s experience, Zaneta Lowe, who today works as an investigative reporter at WREG-TV, the CBS affiliate in Memphis, recalled how both her parents and her husband’s parents had been students at the University.   As a second-generation Alabama student, she and her husband could see the change that happened in the two decades between when their parents were attending classes at the Tuscaloosa campus and they arrived in the 1990s.

Along with twice as many students, Lowe said could attend classes without worrying about many of the problems that confronted her parents in the 1970s when there were only a few hundred black students.

“Someone else had done all the worrying for us,” Lowe said. “This road we traveled had been paved by the blood, sweat and tears by all those who came before us.”

Much of Lowe’s experience focused on her discovering her career as a news reporter while taking classes in Phifer Hall.

Zaneta Lowe graduated with a degree from what is now the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences in 1997.

“My career itself started right here on this campus,” she recalled as she was able to begin an internship at Alabama Public Radio in her first years at the University.

“Change is hard. Change is sometimes ugly.” Lowe said. “It’s what’s on the other side of change that makes it worth it.”


Asked to address progress, Taylor is quick to note that why he was the first African American to lead the alumni association at Alabama, there has been at least one other African American to serve in the post since he completed his term in 2005.

Perhaps the most scholarly in his remarks Tuesday, Taylor borrowed from African American Philosopher and Theologian Howard Thurman and Former Alabama Communication and Information Sciences Dean Cully Clark, who wrote  The Schoolhouse Door, which is regarded as one of the most comprehensive accounts of the desegregation of the Tuscaloosa campus. 

Taylor took a list of statements that reflect achievement in the status of African Americans at the University of Alabama and pondered the question of “What Does It really mean?”

“My list showed elements of progress the University of American made  in becoming a community open to all, ” said Taylor.

Along with Taylor, Lowe and Merriweather,  Judge John England, who in 1969 was the first black student admitted the University’s Law School, also spoke during the nearly 90-minute program.

“We have celebrated history through reaffirming the ideals and principles that led us to this place,” said Judy Bonner, the UA President, whose remarks opened and closed Tuesday’s event.

Former UA Dean Cully Clark Shares Foster Auditorium Story with NOSC 2012 Attendees

Cully Clark, a former dean of the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences, returned to Tuscaloosa Tuesday night to share the story of the school’s integration with attendees at the 13th National Outreach Scholarship Conference. Clark was introduced by his successor, current dean Loy Singleton.

E. Culpepper Clark, author of The Schoolhouse Door and a former dean of the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences, told the story of the integration of the University of Alabama in June 1963.

While I’ve been on the faculty of The University of Alabama for ten years, until tonight I had not been inside one of the most talked-about places on our campus– Foster Auditorium.

Thanks to a special event at the 13th Annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference (NOSC) featuring E. Culpepper Clark (affectionately known as “Cully”),  I have walked THROUGH THE SCHOOLHOUSE Door.

Foster Auditorium is now the home of the UA Women’s Basketball and Volleyball teams.   But, in June of 1963, it was the place where students registered for classes and the site of the late Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

Clark, a former dean of UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences spoke to a crowd of about 100 who journeyed to the Malone-Hood Plaza tonight as part of NOSC 2012.

It’s been nearly two years since the area near the auditorium was officially named to honor of the late Vivian Malone Jones   and Dr. James Hood and Autherine Lucy Foster.   Both Hood and Foster spoke at the 2010 events.

In true storyteller format, Clark like an old grandfather told us what happened nearly 50 years ago here on our campus and why it was important.  In 20 minutes, he seamlessly weaved together an account of so many civil rights flashpoints in the 50s and 60s and explained their significance while keeping the focus on Foster Auditorium.

If you’ve read his authoritative account of the integration of the University of Alabama, Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, you know the great deal of research that he did on this period.

But, it’s different when you’re visitor to the campus for the first time, as many of the conference attendees were.

For those who had only seen Foster Auditorium through viewing the movie Forrest Gump,  Cully Clark’s presentation Tuesday night pulled all of the pieces together.

Next year –2013– will be the 50th anniversary of the one of the most important years in our nation’s history.

“No year was so pivotal to the civil rights movement than 1963,” Clark said.

He explained why it is important to commemorate those events and the one here on our campus.

According to Clark, who now serves as dean of my alma mater, the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, the integration of the University of Alabama “began the transformation of this university.”

An added special treat for those of us in the College of Communication and Information Sciences,  Clark was introduced by current dean Loy Singleton and Clark’s predecessor Edward Mullins was also in attendance.

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.