As I was walking around the Blanton, the free standing door with the handprints and inkblots that read ‘Admissions Office’ immediately caught my eye. Just a simple observation of the door made it clear to me that it was from a school from long ago. The door was probably taken from a building and painted by the artist. The artist applied black paint on himself and pushed himself against the door while rolling his face, in order to get the print we see. As I got nearer, it became clearer what was on the door. Handprints and an impression of a body were on the glass in acrylic paint. The symbolism of African- American struggle to attend school in the American South was vibrant at this point. We fully see the African- American individual fully pressing their body against the door, hoping to get in and have the same opportunities as everyone else.
If we look in history books we can find numerous instances where African- Americans faced adverse situations in everyday life in the American South in the 1960s. They faced trouble walking on the sidewalk, sitting in a public bus, going out to the movies and in numerous other everyday tasks. Even when they wanted to attend school to obtain an education, it was met with violent and sometimes deadly reactions. The Door (Admissions Office) simply shows how hard it was for African- Americans to attend school. The prints of a face and even the body as a whole clearly show the amount of force was put onto the door. The admissions office was a huge deterrent in the way of countless individuals in the American South. It was a metaphor of southern society blocking African- Americans from progressing and being able to garner even their most basic rights. No matter how much one could bang against, lean against or even try to break down that admissions door; it often refused to budge. It has been said that putting African- American children in the same classrooms as white children was the most drastic and potentially far- reaching aspect of the civil rights movement (School Desegregation).
In some instances we saw the admissions office ‘barrier’ be fortified by white southerners who literally stood in the way. When two African- American students attempted to enroll at the University of Alabama, Governor George Wallace physically placed himself in front of the door. Governor Wallace stated “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” (Wallace). Despite Governor Wallace’s stance, the students stood their ground and fought for their rights.
When James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi it was met protest and violence. Like Governor Wallace in Alabama, Governor Ross Barnett in Mississippi promised to block James Meredith from enrolling at Mississippi. Those protesting were met by the Mississippi National Guard under the orders of President Kennedy. Despite all this Meredith was defiant and believed that he was at war fighting for his civil rights as an American citizen and that the University of Mississippi was his battleground. Meredith showed, in my opinion, total bravery and fought for justice in the unjust society he was living. His act of courage is one that not only every Mississippian but also every American should know.
One did not have to be alive in the Civil Rights era to be touched by the profound artwork in the exhibit. What happened in the 1960s was about equality among all races. This concept is vital because lessons from the civil rights era can be spread far and wide. It is valuable to consider the events that unfolded during the civil rights era because it helps us understand race issues in the current world we live in. Being able to see the work in this exhibit is almost like entering a time portal to the past. One can almost feel like they are the student being denied admission to the school of their liking by an imposing admissions door with a body print on it of a student pressing against the door, almost trying to go through it and have the chance to earn an education that is civil right for all.
Zohaib Qadri is a Sociology major at UT. Besides David Hammons’ The Door, he was struck by Pauline Boty’s Countdown to Violence. His favorite book is Of Mice and Men. When he isn’t studying, you can catch him watching House of Cards.
Elliot, Debbie. “Integrating Ole Miss: A Transformative, Deadly Riot.” NPR. NPR, 01 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.
Elliot, Debbie. “Wallace in the Schoolhouse Door.” NPR. NPR, 11 June 2003. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
“School Desegregation and Equal Educational Opportunity.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Leadership Conference, 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.