James Hood, 70; helped integrate University of Alabama

On June 11, 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood exited after registering at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Associated Press
On June 11, 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood exited after registering at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On a scorching June day in 1963, James Hood and Vivian Malone became the first black students to enroll successfully at the University of Alabama, defying Governor George Wallace’s symbolic and vitriolic ‘‘stand in the schoolhouse door.’’

Along with the high school students known as the Little Rock Nine in 1957 and James Meredith’s integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962, Malone and Mr. Hood became national symbols of the struggle to break educational barriers in the civil rights era.

Wallace and other political figures stoked their constituents with rage. Mr. Hood, who died Jan. 17 at 70, endured physical threats and verbal intimidation. He was a gregarious Alabama native, 20 years old, and a provocative target of a governor who had vowed in his inaugural address: ‘‘Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.’’


In 1956, Autherine Lucy had been the first black student to register at the University of Alabama. But the college suspended her after three days, purportedly because it could not ensure her safety.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The day of his registration in Tuscaloosa — June 11, 1963 — Mr. Hood was surrounded by federal guards. He described himself as a virtual prisoner in a government sedan as he sweated in a four-button suit and a hat with a red feather.

According to histories of the showdown, captured on national television and in documentaries, President John F. Kennedy and a Justice Department team had worked out the details in advance with Wallace’s staff.

The governor would protest US intrusion on state sovereignty but then yield to the students.Kennedy was forced to federalize the Alabama national guard, and Wallace gave way only under threat of arrest.

‘‘It is my sad duty to inform you that the National Guard has been federalized,’’ Brigadier General Henry Graham told Wallace. ‘‘Please stand aside so that the order of the court may be accomplished.’’


That evening, Kennedy made a televised address to frame his actions as a ‘‘moral issue . . . as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.’’ A third black student subsequently and quietly registered at the University of Alabama campus in Huntsville.

As much as Mr. Hood tried to merge into campus life, he faced vicious reminders of opposition to his presence.

In a sad denouement to his enrollment, Mr. Hood withdrew that August ‘‘to avoid a complete mental and physical breakdown’’ and prevent possible expulsion. He had become entangled in several politically charged battles, including a commentary he wrote for a student publication that appeared to criticize civil rights protests.

‘‘I think it has become a matter of excitement rather than conviction for most Negroes.’’

Malone, later Vivian Malone Jones, became the school’s first African-American graduate in 1965. She had a long career at the Environmental Protection Agency and died in 2005.


Mr. Hood became a deputy police chief under Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit in the 1970s. He retired in 2002 as an administrator of police science at the Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin.

He returned to the University of Alabama in 1995 and ­received a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies in 1997.