Over forty years ago, Alabama Governor George Wallace stood at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in a symbolic attempt to block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling at the school. The drama of the nation's division over desegregation came sharply into focus that June day.
On June 11, with temperatures soaring, a large contingent of national media looked on as Wallace took his position in front of Foster Auditorium. State troopers surrounded the building. Then, flanked by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told Wallace he simply wanted him to abide by the federal court order. Wallace refused, citing the constitutional right of states to operate public schools, colleges and universities. President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to help with the crisis. Ultimately, Wallace stepped aside and the two students were allowed to register for classes.
But the incident catapulted the governor into the national spotlight and was a watershed event for President Kennedy, who in staring down the South's most defiant segregationist aligned himself solidly with the civil rights movement.
Primary Source Media's new microfilm publication, Part 3: The Integration of Alabama Schools and the Use of Military Force, 1963, details Operation OAK TREE the codename for the Army's plans to intervene in Alabama in the event of civil disturbances related to school integration in May 1963. Operation PALM TREE was the new designation in June when the operation was extended over a wider area. These records cover Governor Wallace's "stand in the schoolhouse door" and the Birmingham church bombing, when the National Guard was federalized and U.S. troops were deployed to protect property, support desegregation, and provide law and order.