The present finally rejected the past at the University of Alabama. On Friday, more than a week after a story about persistent segregation in the school’s sorority system attracted national attention, multiple African American women accepted bids to join traditionally white sororities. The move ends the last bastion of segregation at the tradition-bound southern university.
“I’m kind of still in shock and awe,” says Melanie Gotz, a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, one of the sororities to admit its first black member. “It doesn’t seem like history has happened, but it did, and it’s amazing.”
The news erupted across student and alumni social media networks after a picture of Halle Lindsay wearing an Alpha Gamma Delta T-shirt was shared on Instagram. Cami McCant accepted a bid to join Kappa Alpha Theta, breaking the racial barrier at another traditionally white sorority. The news of their bids was first reported by al.com. As of Friday evening, at least four black women and two other minorities had accepted bids to join historically white sororities, according to a video statement by University President Judy Bonner.
A critical spotlight has been on Alabama since a story published Sept. 11 in the school’s student newspaper, The Crimson White, showed in startling detail how an unofficial but rigidly enforced system of segregation has kept black women from joining the elite Greek organizations. Members of the traditionally white sororities said they were pressured by alumnae to keep black women from joining. The practice was widely known to students and alumni and had been reported before, but the latest incidents seemed to touch an especially raw nerve. Current students were largely for integration and the school’s administration, which had long resisted getting involved, was compelled to act.
By Sunday, President Bonner had announced plans for an open bidding process that would allow traditionally white sororities to accept new members on a rolling basis for the rest of the year with the explicit purpose of increasing diversity.
“I’m encouraged,” says John England, a member of the school’s board of trustees. England’s granddaughter, a standout student who was rejected from sororities because of her race, was featured in the Crimson White article. It’s not yet clear whether she has since accepted a sorority bid.
England praised the sorority members and other students who pushed for integration in the wake of the story. “I think that it is heartwarming to see young folks come forward and express their disagreement, their frustration over not being able to admit a student who they would like to admit because of that student’s race.”
Intense outside pressure has forced Alabama to act on the issue with a swiftness that few anticipated. On Thursday an official with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Birmingham confirmed that a federal prosecutor was monitoring the situation at the University for signs of racial progress.
Today, though, young women in the sorority system are celebrating. “I walked in the house and everyone was so happy,” Gotz says of the mood. “I learned more in a week than other girls would ever have a chance to in a lifetime.”