When James Hood integrated the University of Alabama under the watchful eye of a national television audience in 1963, education was the farthest career from his mind. He was planning to earn a degree, enter a seminary and become a minister. More than three decades later, Hood has returned to the university where he and Vivian Malone, the other Black student who enrolled with him, defied then Gov. George Wallace’s pledge to prevent desegregation efforts to earn a doctorate degree and to continue to nurture his love of education. That love has been focused for many years on community college education.
“I think [the community college] is where the need is and where the future of education is,” said Hood, who plans to return to Madison Area Technical College, where he has worked as an administrators for the department of human and protective services.
Said Hood: “I think that the community college will be the place where people can get prepared for the most abundant jobs available now _ service occupations. If you look at statistics for people coming out of four-year institutions … the jobs are not there. But if you look at the two- year college, I think that most of the jobs out there available for folks are the service jobs.”
At age 17, and during the height of the civil rights movement, Hood and the NAACP sued the University of Alabama to admit him. Federal courts ordered the university to desegregate. It was the last state in the country to do so. He and Malone were admitted the following year. Hood said he became involved with the civil rights movement through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, his English teacher at Clarke University in Atlanta. He attended Clarke while waiting to enter the university in his home state.
Hood dropped out of the University of Alabama shortly after enrolling, he said, on his doctor’s advice. “I was under more stress than a normal person should be,” he said. “I had an active ulcer. Also, my father was dying of cancer, though my mother kept that information from me when I was first trying to get admitted. The stress of my situation was not good for him,” recalled Hood. His father died shortly after he left the university.
Hood later enrolled in Wayne State University in Michigan where he completed an undergraduate degree in police administration and political science.
Before discovering his passion for education, he tried his hand in several careers. He was a minister for three years in Detroit. He served as a police chaplain, and later worked on the political campaign of Sen. Coleman Young, when he ran for mayor of Detroit. After the campaign, Young appointed Hood deputy chief of police for the city, a position he held from 1974 to 1978.
Hood said he first became interested in education in 1972 while working on a masters degree in criminal justice at Michigan State University.
“Through a friend who became a mentor, I started looking at urban education and the importance of it. He helped me to see that we needed to make some sense out of criminal justice and the urban environment,” Hood said.
After earning his master’s degree, Hood went back to Detroit, where he worked for a program focused on improving the reading level of minority children in the inner city.
“That was the beginning of my education career, and from there I went on to teach courses in criminal justice and sociology at Wayne County, Oakland and Henry Ford community colleges,” said Hood.
He eventually found his way to MATC, where he became an administrator.
“Administration and eventually a presidency is where I feel I [will] make my greatest contribution especially to minority concerns,” he said.
Dr. Abdulcadir Sido, administrative dean of MATC’s department of health, human and protective services who has worked with Hood since 1980 said, “One of the things I’ve noticed in working with and supervising [Hood] is that he empowers people.”
Some of his concerns about minorities in higher education, said Hood, are multiculturalism, particularly in terms of curriculum diversity and getting more minorities into the service careers.
“I don’t think we’re focusing enough attention and preparing enough minority students in those areas. That is where, based on the research, in the next 15-20 years the most growth is going to occur. Some of these are well-paying positions,” Hood said.
He hopes to help improve some of the Problems he says limit minority success, especially the lack of adequate or appropriate counseling regarding career options and transfer criteria.
“I think retention programs at the community college level are going to have to be beefed up. And we need to have an articulation agreement with high schools as well as the four-year colleges.”
At 53, Hood says that he is happy with the way his life has turned out, although he could do without some of the renewed attention he has gotten for his historic first experiences at the university
“I was on the campus for a month and no one knew but the administration and that was the way I wanted it,” he said.
Although he wouldn’t choose to change his involvement in that piece of history.
“Now, when I walk around this campus and I recognize what has happened as a result of that it becomes a sort of melancholy, good-bad feeling. That it [the experience] was not all bad, but not all good. And that you wish it had been something different.”
“But my reason for coming here has not changed and that was that as a student who graduated from high school in the state, I was entitled to an education in the state. And I shouldn’t have had to pay an out-of-state tuition to go somewhere else to get an education,” Hood said.
Hood, who has a two-year fellowship at the university, teaches an undergraduate seminar in contemporary social issues. Among the exercises he has had students do is compare the 1963 March on Washington with the 1995 Million Man March.
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