If you know us at Southern Accents, you know how much we love a good story. When a story comes along that is attached to a piece of architecture and is documented, it’s story is not only validated in written form but helps in preserving a piece of our history. Such is the case with two windows that we recently acquired that has a semi-circular design that once graced the front of Foster Hall Auditorium on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. If you study Alabama History, then you are familiar with the event that took place at the entrance to Foster Auditorium on June 11, 1963. If not, then a short history lesson is in order. On this date, then Governor George C. Wallace, who opposed integration, stood at the entrance of the auditorium in an attempt to block two black students from registering at the University. Governor Wallace was unsuccessful in his attempt and that same day the first two black students enrolled at the University of Alabama. Two years later, one of the students, Vivian Malone, became the first black to receive a degree from UA. Years later, George Wallace apologized for his segregationist views and in October 1996, Vivian Malone Jones was chosen by the George Wallace Family Foundation to be the first recipient of its Lurleen B. Wallace Award of Courage. At the ceremony, Wallace said, “Vivian Malone Jones was at the center of the fight over states’ rights and conducted herself with grace, strength and, above all, courage.” In 2000, the University of Alabama bestowed on Vivian a doctorate of humane letters.
The large windows, which can be seen in photos dated at the time of this event, were later removed from the building to make way for a window air conditioning unit. The windows were crated and stored in a storage building on campus. Years later, that storage area, which was shared by faculty member George Hodgson, along with some of the University carpenters, was scheduled for demolition and had to be cleaned out. It was during this process that the crated windows (shown above) were removed by one of the carpenters and placed at the dumpster. George inquired about the windows and was given permission to take them. The windows were moved to his home garage where they sat for years.
In 2009, renovation of Foster Auditorium began. At that time, Mr. Hodgson offered the windows back to the University. The University turned down the offer stating that all of the units were being replaced with newer, maintenance free windows. Not wanting the windows to end up back in the dumpster, George continued to keep them crated and stored in his garage until a few weeks ago when he approached Southern Accents and asked if we would be interested in them. George offered a letter of authenticity that stated how the windows came to be in his possession along with a copy of the email exchange from 2009 offering the windows back to the University.
The Foster Auditorium event, albeit an ugly part of our history, is history none the less. One of the most important aspects of accurately recording historical events is so we can learn from past mistakes. Having written documentation on any historical item not only preserves the provenance of that item, but transforms a story into fact. We gladly accepted the windows and will use these historical architectural elements to serve as a reminder of an event that eventually lead, not to block entrances, but to open doors.
This photo was taken after 1963 but prior to the renovations of 2009. Air conditioning units can be seen where the arch top windows once were.
Foster Auditorium after the 2009 renovations which included the addition of the Malone-Hood Plaza and Autherine Lucy Clock Tower. The University of Alabama paid tribute to Autherine Lucy Foster, James Hood and the late Vivian Malone Jones, the three African-American students whose enrollment represented UA’s first steps toward desegregation, at the dedication which was held November 3, 2010.
The Crimson White newspaper from 2009 highlights the planned renovations of Foster Auditorium. In the photo you can see the air conditioner units that replaced the windows.