OTD in History… June 11, 1963, President Kennedy orders the National Guard to desegregate the University of Alabama
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
On this day in history June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy orders the National Guard to force Alabama Governor George Wallace to end his blockade and desegregate the University of Alabama. June 11, 1963, was a busy day for the civil rights movement. Early in the day, Alabama Governor and strong segregationist George Wallace delivered his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door Speech.” Alabama was the only state that still did not desegregate their schools, Democrat Wallace entered office earlier in the year promising “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Wallace was unyielding refusing to negotiate and compromise with the Kennedy Administration, hoping instead for a confrontation that would elevate his status, while diminishing Kennedy in the Deep South.
Wallace physically prevented two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from completing their registration at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Wallace literally stood in front of the school’s Foster Auditorium door blocking Malone and Hood from entering. Wallace attempted to prevent the university’s integration despite a court order the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
When Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach asked Wallace to move aside, he refused. Instead, Wallace delivered his infamous speech on states’ rights. Wallace called the desegregation an “unwelcomed, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus” and “a frightful example of the expression of the rights, privileges, and sovereignty of this state.” (Brinkley, 109) Katzenbach then contacted President Kennedy.
President Kennedy again was forced to federalize the Alabama National Guard Executive Order 11111 to end the conflict. Kennedy issued Presidential Proclamation 3542 to force Wallace to comply and allow the students to enter the university building and complete their registration. Four hours later Wallace finally moved aside after being by Guard General Henry Graham, allowing for the integration of the University. Wallace made national headlines upping his profile, but also forcing Kennedy’s hand that he had no choice left but to announce his intentions to introduce a civil rights bill to Congress.
Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co, 2003.
Dallek, Robert. John F. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.