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.
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.
“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.
“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.
There are some questions about how relevant Bob Woodward is to college students studying journalism in 2013. A capacity crowd for Woodward’s lecture Friday night at University of Alabama included only a few journalism students.
You couldn’t tell it by the standing-room only crowd that came to hear Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward Friday night.
But, dozens of University of Alabama journalism students missed what for me was a once-in-lifetime opportunity: A Chance to Hear and Meet One of the Greatest Journalists Ever.
I left the outstanding lecture with mixed feelings- EXCITED and ENERGIZED about what we do as journalists, but ANGRY because so many of our journalism students did not show up. I saw fewer than 20 of the students in our classes here at the University attendance.
We have more than 300 majors in the UA journalism department.
This was such an important event that we invited students from the Society of Professional Journalists from Auburn University and Jacksonville State University to make the more than two-hour drive to Tuscaloosa for the lecture.
And, the AU And JSU students both had delegations at the event, which was sponsored by UA’s Blackburn Institute.
We had dozens of high school journalists in town for the Alabama Scholastic Press Association Winter Convention. But only one or two schools came to hear Bob Woodward, even though we re-arranged the convention schedule to include the 6 p.m. lecture.
Who is Bob Woodward?
Today as I began a 3-hour videojournalism workshop with 15 middle school students from the Birmingham area, I asked them what they knew about Bob Woodward.
Most were aware of his work connected to the Watergate scandal. These 6th, 7th and 8th graders could name all the U.S. presidents who Woodward has interviewed and featured in his 17 books.
These students were really sharp. But, I wonder how many of my college students are equally as adept in their knowledge of civics?
A matter of memory and relevance
I don’t remember Watergate. It happened when I was two years old.
I told the middle school group today that the first president I can remember was Jimmy Carter whose inauguration we watched in the cafeteria when I was in 1st grade at Richmond Mary Scott Elementary School.
But, when you talk about why we do journalism, it’s hard not to point to the stellar investigative work of Seymour Hersh, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and more recently, Brett Blackledge.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Patterson passed away just as we are about to mark the 50th anniversary of events that he witnessed and wrote about as a newspaper editor.
As I’m gathering web sites to recommend to students in a new journalism class that begins tomorrow, I stumbled upon the sad news of the death of Eugene Patterson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is one of the big names in civil rights reporting.
A link on MediaGazer to Patterson’s obituary presented an interesting twist of new media aggregation of the work of a journalist who made his mark in an old media age– a time when the newspaper was the medium that could change a world.
Patterson’s writings in The Atlanta Journal Constitution and St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) surely changed some minds.
Saying someone’s death is “untimely” has become a cliche. Does anyone ever pass away right “on time?” But, having someone like Eugene Patterson, who had so profound an impact on lives of many in the Deep South through his writings, around to see us through this 50th anniversary year of pivotal events that changed our country would have been especially outstanding.
I had the great fortune of hearing him speak just a few months after joining the journalism faculty here at The University of Alabama in 2003. Patterson was among the panelists for a “Press and Public Symposium”
I learned so much sitting there hearing about his work during a the civil rights era. But, it became much clearer to me a few years later when he and Hank Klibanoff released their Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Race Beat. Klibanoff has been to the University several times to talk about the book. (He autographed my copy)
Missed Opportunity in 2013
The Tuscaloosa News published on its front page an Associated Press story Sunday on the significance of 2013, the 50th anniversary of so many watershed events in our nation’s history — including the March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his ‘I Have a Dream Speech,’ the bombing of a Birmingham church that claimed the lives of four little girls and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Gene Patterson’s most famous column, ‘A Flower for the Graves’ was written following the September 1963 church bombing. It was read that evening by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
Here on our campus, 1963 was the year that first black students were enrolled.
It was my hope that Patterson might have been well enough to return to campus 10 years after the Press and Public Symposium to reflect and look ahead to the next 50 years for our campus. Sadly, that won’t happen.
I never got a chance to talk one-on-one with Eugene Patterson. Fortunately, even in his last days of life, he took the time to remind us what journalism is all about. He also had some keen insight of how we should position ourselves as technologies shift as the need for our profession continues.
“Journalists get to originate, validate and illuminate the real news if they carry forward the character of their calling,” Patterson wrote in the days following Thanksgiving. ” How they make the good stuff pay will follow the quality as it always has. ”
According to Patterson, technology’s shift of news to new money models still leaves the key to the vault lying in the gold cache of character. That character leaves journalists to prospect for truth.
Patterson’s final essay is where I will begin my class tomorrow– What better words of wisdom to launch a semester-long experience with a new generation of journalists.
But, I’m excited about what I have seen over the last two days as the University of Alabama was front-and-center for a national discussion of the REAL ROLE of any college or University: How Well it Serves its community.
Some 500 attendees have been here to Tuscaloosa to engage on how we should PARTNER, INSPIRE and CHANGE our communities and the energy with which we will leave this afternoon is like no other.
Even as I prepare for Day 3, I have to brag on my students– young and old who have been prominently displayed at this year’s conference
THE YOUNGEST PRESENTERS
I was pleased to see Third graders Sean Smith and Joshua Patton talk about the 15-month partnership between the University and Tuscaloosa’s Oakdale Elementary School.
Each Tuesday, I work with 45 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in producing The Oakdale Eagle.
On Tuesday, Smith and Patton, who started with me as rising second graders, made their PowerPoint Presentations to a nice crowd at a national conference.
Their teacher, Latrina Spencer, who initiated the partnership, also answered questions about the role of journalism at the elementary school level.
The whole world was seeing what I get to see now each Tuesday when I worked with these students– how GREAT THEY ARE now as journalists!
THE PHOTOJOURNALIST TURNED COMMUNITY GARDENER
I still remember when Andrea Mabry was in my introductory journalism class.
Today she is a graduate student here at the University, but not after serving as a photojournalist for countless events here on campus and around Tuscaloosa.
She still does photography projects on the side, but recently she has started a Farmers Market.
Tuesday she and two other students told the story of the Farmers Market.
And, I got a chance to photograph the photojournalist.
There is so much more to write about NOSC 2012. But, I’ll have to do it later.
An action-packed Day 3 is about to kick off in one hour.