English Major Looks at Alabama Football and Integration
Published on April 22, 2014
Susquehanna University senior English major Karen Stewart, from Hazle Township, Pa., has spent more than a year looking at the racial integration of the University of Alabama football team and the rhetoric surrounding that decision in 1968. Her research, presented at Senior Scholars Day at the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center, can be boiled down to one word—win.
Stewart began her research by looking at the speeches of three notable figures central to the civil rights movement in the United States—Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as well as Martin Luther King Jr. What she found was that none of the speeches following Alabama Governor George Wallace’s stand in the school house door to block integration of public schools was as moving as the desire for Alabama University’s then-Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant to keep his team atop college football.
“It took the merging of black and white interests to integrate the university,” Stewart said during her presentation. “The blacks wanted equal opportunities while the whites had a desire to win football games.”
Stewart, a lifelong football fan, got to look at the game in a whole new light after serving an internship, set up by Susquehanna’s Career Development Center, at the National Endowment for the Arts.
“This started out when I interned with the NEH last summer and I wrote an article on a program that studied the University of Alabama and integration there,” Stewart said. “Then it morphed into this project. I decided to keep doing research for my capstone project and then was asked to do an honors project and I kept going.”
Stewart then traveled to Alabama to review documents, including pages from the university’s student newspaper, the Crimson White, from the days surrounding Wallace’s stand. She also spoke with local residents and all came to the same conclusion. Bryant’s main interest in integrating the football team and thus easing the transition of integration on a university-wide basis was to maintain competitive balance.
After graduation in May, Stewart will begin graduate school in professional communication at Clemson University.