James A. Hood, who made history as one of the first two African-American students to enroll at the University of Alabama, died recently at age 70.
It was in 1963 that Hood catapulted into the history books when he, along with Vivian Malone, integrated the university under a federal court order ending segregation at the campus in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Hood and Malone entered the University of Alabama in an environment of tense emotion and resistance to integration. It came just months after the state’s governor, George C. Wallace, stated in his inaugural address “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
It was a challenging experience for Hood and Malone. He lived in a dorm with federal marshals staying on his floor. After his father became ill with cancer, Hood left the college “to avoid a complete mental and physical breakdown.”
He later earned a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in Detroit and a master’s degree from Michigan State University. He served as a deputy police chief in Detroit and chairman of the police science program at the Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin.
Vivian Malone, who died in 2005, became Alabama’s first Black graduate. She later worked in the United States Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Administration.
In later years, Hood returned to the University of Alabama, where he earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies in 1997. In 2002, he moved to the city where he was born: Gadsden, Alabama.
Initially, Hood attended Clark College, the historically African-American school now known as Clark Atlanta University. He wanted to major in clinical psychology but Clark did not offer that major at the time. He decided to transfer to the University of Alabama and joined with Malone in a federal suit that had been filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to desegregate the school.
“His legacy is that of a trailblazer and a person of courage,” said Cleophus Thomas Jr., a lawyer in Anniston, Alabama, who was elected as the first Black student government president at the University of Alabama in 1976.
“He embodied the courage of his generation in fulfilling the aspirations of the preceding generation,” he said, speaking to BET.com. “He was a worthy soldier.”
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(Photo: AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)