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August 30, 2013

Must-see documentary tells story of Ala. sports in Civil Rights era

(Continued)

They weren’t scholarship guys, just walk-ons who weren’t afraid of walking into a previously all-white locker room. Talk about courage. None ever made it into a regular season game, although two did play in a spring scrimmage – a point some may see as trivial, but an achievement that truly wasn’t.

Their efforts – and perhaps awareness by Bryant that Alabama’s competitiveness on the national stage was threatened – led to changes. The introduction of black players to the team proved at least two things: They could play and they could be teammates.

Getting fans across the state to accept it, however, would be another obstacle. But as former Alabama sports information director Kirk McNair said, “Those old rednecks wouldn’t challenge Coach Bryant.” When it came to powerbases in Alabama, there was Bryant and there was Wallace, and the governor knew not to tangle with the Bear.

Actually, it was basketball coach C.M. Newton who signed Wendell Hudson in 1969 to an athletic scholarship, the school’s first to an African-American. Recruiting a black player had Bryant’s blessing. Later that year, assistant coach Pat Dye convinced Wilbur Jackson, a running back from Birmingham, that Alabama was right for him and he was right for Alabama. Assuring Jackson’s parents was a tougher assignment, but Dye proved persuasive. The Tide had turned.

The informative and captivating documentary features dozens of interviews with coaches, players, sports writers and even a cheerleader, each adding valuable insight and detail. The name – “Three Days at Foster” – refers to separate events: The Wallace-staged blockade, a gripping story about a black high school basketball player from Huntsville who leads his team to a state championship in a hostile environment, and a late-in-life moment where Jackson returns to campus with his daughter.

The documentary lasts about 80 minutes and can be rented online for $4.95, through an Internet film service called Vimeo on Demand.

It’s a championship effort by Dunnavant, who allows “Three Days at Foster” to expose dark times in Tuscaloosa that ultimately give way to a brighter day, not only for a team but a state.

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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