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.