Leading the Way: Spring Hill College and Civil Rights in Alabama

- Ward, Tom^
Spring Hill College in Mobile, the oldest institution of higher learning in the state and the oldest Roman Catholic college in the South, was also a leader in the fight for civil rights in Alabama. Praised by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Spring Hill College was well-known for being the first college in the state—and one of the first in the Deep South—to desegregate, which it admitted full-time black students in 1954. However, less is known about the school’s deeper commitment to fighting for racial equality, especially through the work of Patrick Donnelley, S.J., Andrew Smith, S.J., Albert Foley, S.J., and Joseph Langan. Donnelly and Smith shepherded desegregation of the college, while Albert Foley, a professor of sociology, was a long-time civil rights activist in Alabama who took on both the Ku Klux Klan and the segregationist Catholic archbishop of Mobile. Joseph Langan, an alum of the college, served as the mayor of Mobile during the 1960s and is credited by many of helping to guide the city through that turbulent era without the violence that characterized other Alabama cities.

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