Forty years ago this week, then Gov. George C. Wallace made his famous stand in the schoolhouse door.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 8, 2003

Just months after vowing “segregation forever” at his 1963 inaugural, Wallace staged a largely symbolic protest against the enrollment of two black students – Vivian Malone and James Hood – at The University of Alabama.

The state of Alabama has been struggling to come to terms with the legacy of that action ever since.

Wallace, of course, is by no means the source of this state’s problems with race. Those problems stretch much deeper than any one man’s views – even a man with a shadow as large as that of George Corley Wallace. What Wallace’s stand did accomplish was to cast racial unrest as a largely “Southern” problem in the eyes of many.

Email newsletter signup

Of course, history has subsequently demonstrated that race is not just a Southern problem but one that confronts the nation as a whole – one that defies easy solution.

It is only fitting then that on the 40th anniversary of Wallace’s stand we should pause to determine whether we are at least making progress toward that solution.

Blacks now make up 13 percent of the student body at The University of Alabama. That figure is at once both encouraging and discouraging. Blacks comprise roughly one-fourth of the population of this state. There is no acceptable reason why they should not also comprise a comparable percentage of college students.

Any plan to provide blacks as a whole with truly equal opportunities must of necessity include increased access to educational opportunities.

Some barriers already have been removed, and that is one measure of the progress that has been made. There is no longer anyone standing in the schoolhouse door. But that is not enough. Far too many other barriers still remain.

We must continue to improve the quality of education in Alabama at every level, beginning with the earliest grades and continuing up to and including our colleges and universities. We must accept that funding education costs far less than dealing with the consequences of an uneducated or poorly educated populace. We must see to it that everyone who desires an education receives one.

Finally, we must demand excellence from our teachers – and be willing to pay for it.

Only then will the legacy from the stand in the schoolhouse door truly be laid to rest.