By Catenya McHenry
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama (Reuters) - Hundreds of students, teachers and local residents gathered Wednesday at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the setting of one of the most famous segregation protests of the 1960s, to protest the exclusion of black students from white fraternities and sororities.
The silent march across the school grounds came two days after university officials acknowledged that "decisions were made based on race" in this year's sorority recruitment process and ordered changes.
The action came five decades after then Gov. George Wallace made his famous "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" protest against racial integration on the same campus, as two black students, James Hood and Vivian Malone, were escorted past him by the Alabama National Guard.
On Wednesday, protestors carried a banner with the words "The Final Stand in the Schoolhouse Door."
"The blame lies with people like me in sororities 20 years ago because we didn't do anything about it then," said Meredith Cummings, a professor at the school as well as an alumna. "But I'm so glad to see students today have made it their fight."
Last week, the Crimson White student newspaper wrote that at least two black students had been denied entry into some of the school's 16 all-white sororities due to their race.
The report quoted active sorority members, named and unnamed, saying alumnae had prevented the chapters from allowing the black students to join this August.
An alumna interviewed by the paper said the students had been rejected for "policy procedure" reasons, but she did not outline what those were. The two black students could not be reached to comment on Wednesday.
The newspaper quoted Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley as saying that the alumnae need to "change their attitude."
The uproar is not new to Alabama.
In 2000 and 2001 a black student named Melody Twilley was denied the chance to pledge, and her allegations that she had been banned for racial reasons made national headlines.
In 2003, Carla Ferguson, who is black, became the first and only black student accepted into one of the all-white sororities, in a move praised by university leaders breaking through barriers.
On Monday, university President Judy Bonner instructed the all-white sororities to re-open their bidding process, which closed in August, to new members, and ordered changes to the sorority recruiting system.
"Today the eyes of the nation are once again on the University of Alabama," Bonner said in a video statement posted to the university website. "This time it is because our Greek system remains segregated and chapter members admit that during the recruitment process that ended a few weeks ago, decisions were made based on race."
(Writing by Karen Brooks; Editing by Edith Honan and Andre Grenon)
- fraternities and sororities