GADSDEN, Ala. (WBRC) - Two men have begun a petition to change the name of the auditorium at the main campus of Gadsden State Community College.
The Wallace Hall Performing Arts Center was dedicated in 1968 in honor of Governor George Wallace and his wife, Governor Lurleen Wallace. Lurleen Wallace was governor at the time and died later that year.
George Wallace is remembered for the slogan, "Segregation now, segregation forever!" His stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama, as two black potential students, James Hood and Vivian Malone were attempting to enroll, has made him world famous and has become iconic.
Wallace also ran for President of the United States as an independent candidate, and during his second run in 1972, was left paralyzed for life by a would-be assassin’s bullet. When he ran for what turned out to be his final term as Alabama Governor in 1982, Wallace renounced his segregationist past and actively sought black voters.
The Alabama Community College System is considered one of Wallace's achievements. The Gadsden State main campus in East Gadsden was built in 1965, during his first term. It later merged with the Alabama School of Trades and Ayers Tech.
Gadsden State employee Ashton Gray and student Malek Omri say George Wallace's segregationist past runs counter to Gadsden State's mission, and its current reputation as a welcoming school with a diverse student body.
Their petition at change.org had some 1,330 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
They'd like to see Wallace Hall renamed after Gadsden native James Hood, who was admitted to the University of Alabama after Wallace's 1963 stand in the schoolhouse door.
“We believe in changing the name from Wallace, whose message does not correlate with Gadsden State’s message of inclusiveness, would be the best option,” Gray said.
“Though later on in his life he may have changed, that message, if you look in the history books today, if you watch films like “Forrest Gump,” it just reminds you of that message, and what he stood for,” Gray added.
Omri says they'd like to meet next week with Gadsden State president Martha Lavender. However, spokesperson Jackie Edmondson says such a name change would have to come from the Alabama Community College System board of trustees.
Edmondson sent a statement on the subject to WBRC Wednesday afternoon:
“Gadsden State Community College has a long history of providing quality, affordable education in the communities we serve. From the humble beginnings of Alabama Technical College in 1925 to the merger with Harry M. Ayers State Technical College in 2003, Gadsden State has been through many changes over the years as we have grown to the comprehensive community college we are today. We are proud of our current students and of our graduates, like you!
Gadsden State is one of 24 colleges within the Alabama Community College System. We are governed by a board of trustees. The duties of that board include designating rules and regulations for the colleges. ACCS is aware of the concerns brought forth in the petition. Citizens can also contact ACCS directly here.”
The petition sought by Gray and Omri can be found at this link.
Another petition at change.org seeks to change the name of another Wallace Hall, this time on the campus of Auburn University. The petition proposes to rename it Franklin Hall, after Harold Franklin, the first black student enrolled at Auburn. As of Wednesday afternoon that petition had 11,652 signatures.