One group of students is joining together to rename South George Wallace Drive, named after the Alabama governor infamous for supporting segregation.
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” Gov. George Wallace said in his 1963 inaugural address.
Governor of Alabama during the civil rights era, Wallace is known for standing in front of the entrance of the University of Alabama to prevent African-American students from enrolling.
Just outside Troy University is South George Wallace Drive.
Those organizing the effort to rename the road are considering renaming it after Congressman John Lewis, an integral person during the civil rights movement and Troy native, who was initially turned away from Troy University due to segregation.
Montae Barto, a sophomore political science major from Crestview, Florida, spearheaded the effort to change the road name.
“We’re not trying to tarnish George Wallace’s legacy,” Barto said. “We feel like George Wallace, across Alabama, has gotten enough recognition, and it’s 2018.
“If you look at exactly what he has done, is it enough to get the credit he is getting right now?”
With the support of a few professors, Barto and a group of students have begun the push to change the street’s name after they learned about what he had done to encourage segregation.
“From what I have heard from locals, this is not the first time, and it has been shut down before, and this will probably not be the last time,” Barto said. “I think because of our approach, we have a strong chance to get something done.”
Barto said he hopes to involve county and city legislators, but he emphasized the dire need for locals to support the movement.
“I feel like when the people of Troy get involved, and if they are supportive of what we’re trying to do, the people they elect will have to change legislation,” he said.
One professor, who prefers to remain anonymous, agrees that George Wallace Drive’s namesake does not reflect well on the university and “does not represent the culture of Troy.”
“I don’t think Gov. Wallace represents what Troy University is,” the professor said. “George Wallace stood in the doorway of a university to prevent students of color from getting an education.
“Troy University is about integration, not segregation.”
The professor pointed out the impact that young people can have, referring to a quote written on a board — “The youth must make the change.”
The professor mentioned that, if young people were to stand up and band together, any change possible could be made.
“It’s history, and we shouldn’t erase it, but we don’t glorify it,” the professor said. “That’s why we come to university — to get away from ignorance.”
Christopher Anderson, a senior history major from Dothan, is one student working with Barto to make a change.
“Renaming George Wallace is important, as it shows Troy’s commitment to trying to change the way it’s represented,” Anderson said. “Gov. Wallace’s political platform was explicitly racist for a large duration of his career.
“Although he may have made contributions to education and even apologized for his actions, it still does not negate the tremendous negative effect he had and still does have on residents of Troy, affected Troy University students and all those sympathetic to the civil rights cause.”
Anderson also said having Wallace’s name so close to Alabama’s international university causes tension.
“To have the main road which leads to the ‘South’s International Institution,’ a university which prides itself on cultural diversity, to bear the name of someone with such a checkered past is simply not appropriate,” he said.
Current efforts to make the change are in the beginning stages, as the group is trying to do more research and plan out its course of action. The effort began only around a month ago.
The group is trying to weigh the good versus the bad of Wallace’s life. Three community colleges in Alabama are named after him, and another is named after his first wife.
Troy University has plaques scattered around campus noting buildings constructed while Wallace was governor, and one building is named after his former wife, who was also governor for a short time.
Steven Sain, a junior psychology major from Panama City, is a supporter of the effort to rename South George Wallace Drive.
“I don’t agree with (Wallace),” Sain said. “I find that sort of level of racism and bigotry abhorrent, regardless of what race it’s against.”
Wallace continued with his beliefs on a national level, unsuccessfully running for president on a segregationist platform.
Sain also pointed out the “distinct difference” between glorification and retaining history.
“History is something preserved in direct actions,” he said, referring to the commemorations Troy has respecting Wallace for the benefits to education he gave. “Glorification is taking something otherwise meaningless and ascending a higher value to it.
“There’s a certain power in having a name like that above all else to represent coming into an international school.”
In such a trying political climate, Sain said those who are divided should focus on improving the world around them by opening up a discussion for change and stand up for what is right.
“To be involved with wanting to make better change to represent another people when it’s necessary is something we should all do,” Sain said. “I think it’s important to stand up for issues like this, however minor or major, to help change things and make things better.”
The group currently plans to focus on renaming South George Wallace Drive instead of the entire road, focusing on the initial representation shown when entering Troy University.