This is actually a heart warming story, after all the witticisms I have made about heart warming stories. This is how a bunch of smart Alabama white guys insured that the University of Alabama was peacefully integrated. Naturally, food was involved.
Dr. John Blackburn was something of a genius (there is still a Blackburn Institute at UA). I was something of your local friendly environmental radical as an undergrad. Then Dr. Blackburn came to speak at our dorm, Mallet, the Men’s Honors Dorm, which he had founded. After his talk, I became an all-around radical. I still am.
The gist is this: Dr. Frank Rose, the UA prez, was something of a genius himself (He also worked with NATO, and hired Bear Bryant as the football coach). He gave Blackburn the job of coming up with a plan to end segregation at UA, without the rioting that happened at the University of Mississippi. Blackburn’s idea in 1961 was beautiful. We’ll get a bunch of smart guys to be our enforcer goons against the frats, in case there was trouble. Thus the Mallet Assembly, the Men’s honor program was born. Even when I interviewed for a spot in the dorm seventeen years later, they still wanted only highly intelligent athletes. When they found out I was one of those three sport letter guys in high school, I was in.
Here’s where the food comes in. The frat expletives decided they could get rid of James Hood, the first Black male to enroll in 1963, by denying him a seat at the cafeteria. The whole plot was as laughable as George expletive Wallace standing in the school house door earlier that year. Everyone knew that frat expletives ate in their frat hidey-holes, and that they all had Black cooks. (The women’s Honors dorm, in Fitz Hall, protected Vivian Malone, who later became Vivian Malone Jones, the sister in law of US AG Eric Holder. Nobody messed with a Fitz woman, least of all some dainty sorority expletives.)
Dr. Blackburn passed the word down to Mallet–now is your time. After the Malleteers finished laughing at the idiocy of the frat’s plot, they decided it was time for the frat expletives to get some of the old what for. So they staged a little drama for the village idiots.
For the first time in history, when James went to pick up his first meal, every seat in the cafeteria was full. The Malleteers sat at their usual table, and tried not to laugh while the frat expletives all smirked. James was in on the plot, and came in with his tray of food, and looked around, as if confused. A Malleteer stood up, waved him over, and gave him his seat. The frats couldn’t believe that it happened. They really were that dense. Soon thereafter, Mallet was listed “as a subversive organization with capability to build a nuclear weapon.” I never saw any nukes, but a chemistry major made LSD in a sink in the kitchen next to my room.
Barely ten years later (thirteen, to be exact), Mallet ran, and elected, the first Black Student Government president. This was before my time, but I would have quoted Bertolt Brecht to the losers, “Erst kommt das Fressen, Dann kommt die Moral.” (Food First, and then Morality.)
Which leads to a lighter story, about our dorm soccer team, which was unbeatable for our first two years. I was a defenseman, but we were required to choose a nickname and a number for our jerseys. I choose the nickname of Sierra Club president David Brower, who defended the environment by founding The Friends of the Earth, and the Earth Island Institute. John McPhee’s great non-fiction book Encounters with the Archdruid featured three long stories about Brower.
Truthfully, we won every match because our front line was three Nigerian grad students, all of whom were working on MS degrees in Petroleum Engineering. I actually would go a whole half sometimes, without ever seeing the ball come my direction. I did see a member of the frat league break his leg, when one of his rival frats kicked the snot out of him. Their game appeared to be more like a cross of rugby with thunderdome, than the beautiful sport we played.