By Donna Thornton/News Editor
For Gadsden City Councilman Billy Harris, the news last week of Dr. James Hood’s death at the age of 70 marked more than the loss of a key figure in the Civil Rights movement who hailed from the same hometown.
Hood, a native of Gadsden, was one of two students who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963, at the time then Gov. George Wallace made his infamous stand in the school house door, only to step aside in the face of federal authorities.
Hood died Jan. 17 in Gadsden, where he had returned to live in 2002. A home-going celebration for Dr. Hood was held Jan. 24 at First United Methodist Church, after visitation and a memorial service with the family Jan. 23 at Sweet Home United Methodist Church.
“We were good close friends,” Harris said, in their younger days. He grew up with Hood, he said, in the same school and church, and they were fellow students at Clark College in Atlanta when Hood made the decision to transfer to the University of Alabama in 1963.
Harris said, at the time, Hood was not seeking accolades.
In interviews later, Hood said he had been angered by a Clark College survey finding that the brain development of blacks did not match that of whites.
He also wanted to study clinical psychology, and Clark did not offer that program. According to The New York Times obituary for Hood, he and Malone became plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund that sought to implement the original desegregation order issued in the 1956 Autherine Lucy lawsuit.
Hood did not stay at UA long. The only other occupants on the floor of the dorm where he lived were federal marshals. University officials tried to expel him after a speech criticizing them and Wallace, and a dead black cat was mailed to him, according to reports.
And Harris said Hood’s father was ill at the time.
“It was a great strain on him,” Harris said, speaking of the situation at school and his father’s illness. “He was under a lot of pressure.” Hood left Alabama after a few month and moved to Michigan, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University and master’s degree from Michigan State. He studied and the University of London for a time, according to his obituary from Adams-Buggs Funeral Service, and never stopped furthering his education.
That included a return to the University of Alabama, where he completed his doctorate in Philosophy in 1997.
“He felt his role was just something he had to do,” Harris said, of Hood’s place in Civil Right history. “He never wanted to be classified as anything other than James Hood. He just wanted to do what was right.”
According to Hood’s obituary, he expressed the same thought, when asked how he wanted to be remembered.
“… As one who stepped through the world, trying to make it a better, that’s all. I just did what I thought was right,” Hood said.