(NEW YORK) — James Hood, the civil rights figure made famous by Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” policy, has died.
Hood died at his home in Alabama Thursday at age 70.
He was thrust into the national spotlight during a long fight to attend college in his home state of Alabama at the height of the civil rights movement.
Alabama was the last state to integrate its education system.
On June 11, 1963, after a U.S. court ruling ordering Alabama to desegregate, James Hood and Vivian Malone attempted to register for classes at the University of Alabama, but they were blocked at the door by then-Gov. Wallace and several state troopers.
Later that day, President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and issued a presidential proclamation ordering Wallace to execute federal court orders that would allow Hood and Malone to enroll at the university.
Guardsmen then escorted Hood and Malone via a side door into the school auditorium, where Wallace stepped aside and allowed the two to register.
Later that evening, Kennedy addressed the nation and called for sweeping civil rights legislation that would ban discrimination in all public places.
Wallace had long proclaimed he would stand at the front door of any school that was ordered by the federal courts to admit black students. During his inaugural speech five months before the standoff at the university, Wallace famously proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
James Hood left the school a few months after the historic day and moved to Michigan, where he finished out his undergraduate degree. He said he did so to avoid “a complete mental and physical breakdown,” according to the school website dedicated to a civil rights memorial named after Hood and Malone.
Hood returned to the University of Alabama three decades later to earn a doctorate in higher education in 1997.
University of Alabama President Judy Bonner issued a statement Friday honoring the civil rights figure.
“James Hood will be remembered for the courage and conviction he demonstrated as one of the first two African-American students to enroll at The University of Alabama,” Bonner said.
Wallace renounced his segregationist views before his death in 1998. Following his death, according to the New York Times, one of those who came to pay their respects to former Gov. Wallace was James Hood.
“I think he made peace with God,” Hood told the paper.
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