Desegregation week brings campus history to students

This past week marked the 50th anniversary of desegregation at UNA. The history and political science department prepared several events to celebrate the desegregation, which began on the birthday of desegregation at UNA, on Wednesday, Sept. 11. Wendell Gunn, who started change on campus 50 years ago, was the keynote speaker of the convocation.

During the keynote speech, Gunn told personal stories of struggle and success.

“I thought by now the words black and white would be descriptive words like tall, skinny, short, chubby and nothing more,” Gunn said. “We’re in a better world today than we were 50 years ago and we’ll be in a better world tomorrow. You are the ones who are going to write the rest of the story.”

The department of history and political science held a conference titled Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Desegregation of the University of North Alabama.

Sarah Franklin, assistant professor of history, said, “What they all took away (from the event) is how special the university is.”

Franklin said the conference was happening now because issues of inequality are still with us today.

“This week marked the 50th anniversary of desegregation but it’s always important to have these conversations not just on special occasions but every day,” Franklin said.

Carolyn Barske, assistant professor of public history, gave her thoughts on why the conference was important.

“I think it is a good way to keep the conversation going,” she said. “It helps to tell people stories that historically weren’t listened to. That opens conversations about a past where (segregation) was ignored.”

Barske said desegregation made our community stronger historically.

“Continuing that conversation about those stories that brought people together, and understanding desegregation is important to understanding who we are in the Shoals area,” Barske said.

“Racism is not gone. We still have to have a conversation about it.”

Yaschica Williams, assistant professor and interim chair of the criminal justice department said the conference was momentous because it paid tribute to a significant event in UNA’s history.

“(The conference) also allows us to honor this student, Mr. Wendell Gunn, who was the first to desegregate UNA,” Williams said. “The 1960s was a turbulent time in American history and I’m sure it took a lot of courage for Mr. Gunn to sit down in that classroom in the fall of 1963.”

Williams and others still believe desegregation is something that should be cared and thought about.

“We should still care about desegregation today as it relates to other issues, such as poor neighborhoods and communities,” Williams said. “Students attending schools in these areas may not have access to adequate education because the community can’t be competitive in the hiring of the most qualified and dedicated teachers, or not being able to purchase the most recent edition of textbooks due to lack of funding.”

Students weighed in on why we should care about desegregation as well.

“Color is only pigment,” said Alexis Pastor, a UNA freshman. “We shouldn’t be separate for our color. We all deserve the same thing. This country is one of freedom.”

UNA student Cameron Needham said the conference was noteworthy.

“It offered a key perspective from the view of someone who brought on desegregation to a small part of the country,” Needham said. “Here in America, equality is defined as equal opportunity no matter your race or background.”