Posts Tagged ‘Stand in the School House Door’

Katzenbach Memorial – University of Alabama

Marina Roberts provides opening remarks at the Nicholas Katzenbach memorial service held in front of the school house door

The Tuscaloosa forecast for Monday, June 11, 2012 was not good. Thunderstorms were predicted and threatened to wash out the Nicholas Katzenbach Memorial Service sponsored by the Mallet Assembly, an honors program at the University of Alabama. An alternate location indoors was identified, but it wasn’t needed. At 6:30 p.m., as the memorial service got underway, the hot Alabama sun beat down on the crowd gathered for the ceremony outside Foster Auditorium, the site of the historic confrontation between Governor George Wallace and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach exactly 49 years ago.

Marina Roberts, the Mallet Assembly President and brain child of the event, opened the memorial. She recounted how a few short weeks ago she didn’t even know who Nicholas Katzenbach was. It was Mallet Faculty Advisor, Professor Billy Field, who told Marina about this remarkable man after Katzenbach passed on May 8, 2012. The more Marina learned about Katzenbach, the more Marina wanted to do something to honor his life and the role he played in the integration of the University of Alabama.

“When we think of the infamous stand in the schoolhouse door, too often I think we forget that George Wallace was not the only man standing up for something that day,” said Roberts. “I find it a little sad that we remember this moment with an emphasis on the governor playing into the prejudice of his constituents, and not on the magnificent effort made by common people to work with one another, to tear down the barriers that impede them, to empower each other, to open doors and to walk through them. For me, this is why we must remember Nicholas Katzenbach – there will always be impediments to progress and human equality, but it is imperative that we recognize our own power in these situations to push against these obstacles and to overcome them.”

The next speaker was another student, Jonathan Thompson, who gave an equally eloquent speech on the importance of Nicholas Katzenbach, Vivian Malone, James Hood, and the freedoms we enjoy today.

June 11, 1963 – Stand in the School House Door

He was followed by University of Alabama Law Professor Bryan Fair who provided a recap of Katzenbach’s life before, during, and, after the Wallace confrontation and what Katzenbach meant to him. “I acknowledge and understand that I stand on his shoulders,” said Fair, “knowing that his fight against the tyranny of segregation paved the way for me and others to join a previously all-white faculty and staff. I believe the University of Alabama is a better place today because Katzenbach and others faced down segregation.” And that sentiment was a theme carried throughout the program.

Poetry read by local author Jennifer Horne, and civil rights anthems sung by a local choral group were moving touches, especially if you heard their beautiful voices. The choral group was led by Director Willie Williams, who shared how on the day he earned his Master’s degree at the University of Alabama, there was one thing he needed to do after graduation, and that was to stand in the school house door which paved the way for him and countless others.

Mallet faculty advisory Billy Field also recounted personal experiences from his Alabama childhood in the 1960s. He described the prejudices his family experienced when they drove across the country with Alabama license plates in the summer of 1963. Based on that experience Field learned to tell people he was from Florida rather than his sweet home of Alabama. Stories like that brought history alive and helped provide the backdrop of the sweeping changes that resulted from the ciil rights movement.

Two statements were also read at the memorial. The first from Attorney General Eric Holder, whose future sister-in-law, Vivian Malone, was one of the two students who integrated the university. “For me, for my colleagues across the Department of Justice, and for students across this campus and around the country, Nicholas Katzenbach’s example continues to serve as a source of inspiration.  And I am grateful for your efforts both to honor his achievements and to build upon the work that defined his life and distinguished his service to our Nation.”

The second statement was from the Katzenbach family who shared how important their father’s work at the Justice Department was to him and to the nation. “Our father always had a special place in his heart for the University of Alabama. Back in the 60’s, when the nation struggled with the turmoil of integration, he, and the rest of the men and women at the Department of Justice, knew that real equality could only be attained when the best of the colleges and universities throughout the South opened their admissions to Americans of all races. He and his colleagues understood that education did more than create opportunities. It established a commonality of purpose and a dedication to achievement … Our father took great pride in fighting for his country, fighting for justice and fighting for opportunity and aspirations for all Americans. At a time now, when we can all see so many struggles continuing even in this modern world, he believed it was always important to remember how far we have come on our journey together, and how far yet remains to be traveled.”

Vivian Malone               Malone-Hood Plaza

I was the concluding speaker and shared my experiences of my first visit to the University of Alabama. Exactly five years earlier on June 11, 2007, I marked the 44th anniversary of the stand in the schoolhouse door. Back then I was the only one there in contrast to today. The air was swampy, the building deserted, and the crowds gone. The only reminder of the segregationist ghosts of yesterday was a plaque denoting this place, Foster Auditorium, as the “Site of the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

In the five short years since my previous visit, the area outside Foster Auditorium has been transformed into the Malone-Hood Plaza, dedicated in 2010. In the center is the Autherine Lucy clock tower recognizing her efforts, albeit unsuccessfully, to integrate the university in 1956.  The other big change is that Foster Auditorium is no longer a dilapidated building. It too, has undergone a massive renovation and now houses a state of the art basketball court. And in the lobby, the ghosts of history’s past have since come alive with an interactive touch screen about the integration of the university and the key players.

James Hood
Malone-Hood Plaza

While much has changed on campus in the last five years, not to mention the last 49 years, the memorial service itself demonstrated that one person can make a difference.  We saw that with Vivian Malone, with James Hood, and with Nicholas Katzenbach.  And we saw that with Marina Roberts who a few weeks ago didn’t even know who Nicholas Katzenbach was, yet learned about his mark on her university, state, and nation, and organized a fitting tribute to commemorate Katzenbach’s life.

The service ended with a moment of silence and then the playing of Taps by Brittany Hendricks in honor of Katzenbach’s WWII service and quest for freedom.

Katzenbach made a difference not just here, but through the fabric of our society and it was his passion for justice and the enforcement of the law that helped make the dreams of a many a reality.

——

As a footnote, the storm managed to stay away, but just as the program wrapped up, the winds kicked up, the sky turned ominous, and the heavens let loose. How the university managed to remove all those chairs in seconds I have no idea. In a matter of minutes, winds were whipping, branches down, and the rain cometh. Mother nature somehow managed to cooperate and kept the storm at bay until the ceremony ended. It is under this dark cloud that Taps was played, a solemn end.

University of Alabama

Today I’m heading to Tuscaloosa to speak at the University of Alabama’s Memorial Service for Nicholas Katzenbach which is being held today, June 11, the 49th anniversary of the stand in the school house door. If you are a new blog follower check out my post from last year about this historic confrontation and the lengths the federal government went to insure that the University of Alabama was integrated. Tune in tomorrow to read about the memorial service which was planned by the students inspired by Katzenbach’s life.

https://sixdegreesofmillicent.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/the-stand-in-the-schoolhouse-door/

USA Today Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

  1. In case you missed it, I had a column in the USA Today over the weekend about Nicholas Katzenbah.  I hope you enjoy !

Column: Katzenbach civil rights legacy lives on today

By Amy Schapiro

Updated 2d 15h ago
Tuesday night, this country lost one of its national heroes. For those who grew up in the ’60s, Nicholas Katzenbach, who was 90, was a household name. For today’s generation, it is a forgotten name. Yet the lives we lead today would be drastically different if it weren’t for the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill of 1965. Katzenbach was one of the key architects behind that legislation and more.
  • In this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.By Calvin Hannah, APIn this 1963 photo, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, at right, confronts Alabama Gov. George Wallace, standing in front of a door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In some sense, it is ironic that on the day it was learned that an unsung hero of the civil rights movement died, the president of the United States, the first African-American, advocated his support for same-sex marriage — the next battleground for equality.

As Robert Kennedy‘s deputy attorney general, it was Katzenbach whom the Kennedy administration relied on to craft legislation and quell crisis after crisis. Katzenbach was the ranking government official dispatched to represent the attorney general, and the president, when James Meredith enrolled at theUniversity of Mississippi.

The following year, it was Katzenbach who was sent to another college campus to enforce the integration of theUniversity of Alabama by two African-American students, James Hood and Vivian Malone (who would later become the sister-in-law of current Attorney General Eric Holder).

Reflections by Holder

The impressions that Katzenbach made on a 12-year-old Holder were everlasting. “When I became deputy in 1997, Nick Katzenbach was a person who by then, I never met, but whom I knew from history,” Holder told me during an interview last year. “One of the things I always do as I take these jobs is try to think about who my predecessors are and what they do well. … As I thought about what I wanted to do as deputy, I wanted to be a force beyond simply making sure that the ship was running on time, and I took that from the experience of having seen (Katzenbach) playing such a pivotal role in a historical event.”

The photo of that historic confrontation — between a short and stocky segregationist governor, George Wallace, and a tall balding government official, Katzenbach, has become an iconic image of the struggle for civil rights. On that hot June day in 1963, Wallace planned to seize the opportunity to highlight himself and his cause. But what he didn’t expect was to be upstaged by a 6’2 man who called it like he saw it — “a show.”

Katzenbach always called it like he saw it. He didn’t mince words; he was a straight shooter, and he accomplished something few others can say. He was the rare individual who was trusted by rivals Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was part of Bobby Kennedy‘s inner circle, and later succeeded Kennedy as LBJ’s attorney general. For Johnson to appoint a Kennedy man in the position spoke volumes about Katzenbach. Katzenbach was his own man, guided by the principles of the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, he was beside himself over the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even in his later years, he never lost his love of the law.

His father’s footsteps

In pursuing the law he emulated his father, who was the state attorney general of New Jersey and died when Katzenbach was just 12 years old.

Katzenbach endured his own struggle for freedom when he was shot down in a B-25 over the Mediterranean and spent 27 months as a POW during World War II. While he was stymied by the confines of prison, he maximized his time by reading hundreds of books, including legal tomes, so he could return to the U.S. and earn his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. He accomplished both.

When Katzenbach wanted to work for the Kennedy administration, he turned to Yale Law School classmate Byron White. Katzenbach’s eyes were set not on the Department of Justice, but rather the State Department. Ironically, that is where Katzenbach ended his government career. In what was considered a surprise move by President Johnson, Katzenbach went from being attorney general to under secretary of State under Dean Rusk. With the passage of the civil rights legislation, Katzenbach was ready to take on a new challenge, the Vietnam War. He was a dove among hawks and groomed many future statesmen such as Richard HolbrookeAnthony Lake and Lawrence Eagleburger, who all worked for him.

I recently asked Katzenbach about the stalemate in Congress due to unwillingness to compromise. He replied, “Compromise assumes, I think, a certain rationality and a willingness to postpone, not necessarily give up. I never tried to convince the Southerners to stop discriminating and vote for civil rights. But with everyone, I was willing to explain why we wanted a provision and what we thought it would accomplish.”

He did the same when a proposal or amendment wasn’t favored. As he said, “These discussions often exposed a misunderstanding that could be cured. Our language could be interpreted in ways we did not intend.”

This nation will certainly miss public servants like Katzenbach who valued the art of understanding and compromise.

Amy Schapiro is author of the forthcoming biography Leading Justice: The Life of Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, which will be published next year.

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