James Alexander Hood was the first African American male student to register and attend classes at the previously all-white University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Hood was born in Gadsden, Alabama, on November 10, 1942, to Octavie Hood and Margaret Hughes Hood. James had two brothers named Arthur Janes Hood and Laymon Hood, as well as one sister named Ramona Denise Hood Thomas. He graduated from Carver High School in Tuscaloosa and previously attended Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), an HBCU in Atlanta.
Hood, on the other hand, was adamant about breaking down racial barriers during the Jim Crow era, and at the age of 20, he witnessed the early 1960s civil rights movement unfolding around him. Alabama civil rights leaders encouraged him to submit an application for admission to the University of Alabama. After being denied admission due to his race, a federal judge intervened and ordered him and another African American student, Vivienne Malone, to be admitted to the state-supported institution.
On June 11, 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace defied a court order and physically stood in front of the Foster Auditorium door at the flagship University of Alabama (UA) to deny Hood and Malone entry as they attempted to register for classes. He declared the two students “unwanted and unwelcome.” President John F. Kennedy responded by federalizing the Alabama National Guard and threatening the governor with arrest if he continued to deny the students admission. Wallace agreed to let Hood and Malone in through an adjacent door, surrounded by federal marshals.
Hood enrolled in classes at the university. However, after two months of repeated racial threats in this extremely hostile academic environment, he left the University of Arizona for his psychological and physical safety and enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Hood earned a bachelor of arts degree from Wayne State in 1970 and a master of arts degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University in Lansing two years later.
Hood returned to the University of Alabama in 1995 to pursue a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies. In 1997, he finished his program in two years. Hood and former Gov. George Wallace had bonded over the years, and Wallace announced that he wanted to attend Hood’s doctoral hooding (Ph.D. graduation) on May 17 and personally give him his degree, but the governor was unable to attend due to ill health. Hood attended Wallace’s funeral in 1998 and publicly urged people to forgive Wallace for his actions in 1963, just as he had done.
Hood retired from Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2002, and returned to his hometown of Gadsden. The University of Alabama named the plaza in front of Foster Auditorium after him and Malone in 2010. Their names are now engraved in the plaza.
James Alexander Hood died of stroke complications on January 17, 2013, in Gadsden, Alabama. He was 70.