How a small group of pioneers integrated the powerful University of Alabama football program—and helped heal a state's wounds.
A documentary film about the integration of Alabama football
In the 1950s and 1960s, the epic battle to end institutional racism reverberated across the state of Alabama. Rosa Parks’ defiant stand launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott—and the modern Civil Rights Movement. The murder of four little girls at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church shocked the sensibilities of an increasingly weary nation. The Selma-to-Montgomery march forever to be known as Bloody Sunday became a galvanizing event in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In June 1963, when segregationist Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, in a symbolic attempt to prevent the admission of two African-American students to the nation’s last all-white state university, he fulfilled a campaign pledge but forever planted his feet on the wrong side of history. Protected by the federalized Alabama National Guard, Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for classes without incident.
But, as the 50th anniversary of Wallace’s infamous stand approaches in 2013, one story concerning Alabama’s civil rights history remains largely untold: How a small group of athletes broke the color barrier of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s powerful Crimson Tide football program, and how this change ultimately played a significant role in promoting racial harmony in the Heart of Dixie.
Suddenly, Alabama fans, black and white, were compelled to share something more personal than water fountains, lunch counters and even classrooms: their heroes.
This is the story ShadowVision Productions plans to capture in THREE DAYS AT FOSTER, a documentary film by best-selling sports author Keith Dunnavant.
As someone who grew up in a small Alabama town in the years after the barriers were shattered, his view of the world no doubt influenced by the integrated Crimson Tide, Dunnavant has long been interested in the transformation of Bryant’s program from an unwitting symbol of segregation in the 1960s to an instrument of racial progress in the 1970s and beyond.
Now he intends to bring to THREE DAYS AT FOSTER the same level of narrative sophistication readers have learned to expect from his books.
In recent years, the 1970 clash between integrated Southern Cal and all-white Alabama at Birmingham’s Legion Field has been inaccurately characterized by some as the pivotal event that caused the Crimson Tide to open the door to black players. But the reality is much more complex. The game was important, enormously important, in promoting a new age of race relations just a few miles from the volatile streets where Bull Connor’s attack dogs and water hoses had once turned Birmingham into a world-wide symbol of intolerance. It certainly strengthened Bryant’s hand in a culture still burdened by resistance.
But contrary to the 21st century mythology that has blossomed concerning that long ago USC-Alabama game, the Bama football program was already integrated by the time John McKay’s Trojans arrived in Birmingham.
Wilbur Jackson, destined to be remembered as the Jackie Robinson of Alabama football, had been signed to a scholarship months earlier and was, in fact, sitting in the stands with the other members of the Bama freshman team that night—still ineligible for varsity competition according to the NCAA rules of the day. The de-segregation of the Crimson Tide program had actually begun with a group of non-scholarship walkons in 1967, just months after Bryant's undefeated, untied Crimson Tide finished a controversial third in the wire service rankings—victimized by the specter of George Wallace and all the negativity swirling in the ether. Furthermore, Alabama had been playing against schools with black players for more than a decade—including a painful loss to bitter rival Tennessee at Legion Field in 1969, the season before Sam Cunningham and his teammates routed a mediocre Bryant team. Somehow, in the fog of history, this game is often overlooked. Many factors contributed to the ultimate integration of the Crimson Tide, including the de-segregation of high school sports programs across the state beginning in the late 1960s, tumbling like dominoes on the way to Bryant’s Tuscaloosa dynasty.
THREE DAYS AT FOSTER will place all these pivotal events in historical context while telling an inspiring story about the power of sports to touch hearts, change minds, and heal a state's wounds—giving the young men who shattered the Alabama color barrier their due as pioneers in the civil rights movement.
The budget raised here will help us fund the filming of interviews with key figures, travel, archival footage, and post-production expenses.
The plan is to have the film completed in early 2013, so it can be part of the larger discussion about the impact of Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door.
We would appreciate your participation at any level, so please check out our rewards on the right side of this page and join us in preserving this important piece of American history.
Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.
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