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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  February, 2010

Did You Know?
Did you know that I’m always pleasantly surprised when I discover how Fayette County has been part of this nation’s history?

There are times when I hear a loud thud, and I look down and realize it’s just the sound my jaw makes when I find some new, exciting, jaw dropping fact about our county.

This is one of those times.

Did you know that in 1963, when this nation was in the throes of its racial growing pains, a young man who had been a student at Uniontown’s St. John’s High School would be at the center of this country’s Civil Rights struggles?

Allow me to introduce (or should I say re-introduce) you to Henry Hobdy.
But first a little background.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963, part of his “dream” was aimed at Alabama Governor George Wallace. “I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" (the protection of states’ rights) and "nullification" (the ability of a state to nullify federal laws) -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,” was his vision of the future.

That was not just carefully crafted prose. It was directed at a Governor who had pledged, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” during his January 1963 inaugural speech. Wallace, then, vigorously attempted to make good on his promise.

First, in June, he personally stood in the doorway to block two black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. After federal intervention, he eventually relented.

Then, just a few after King’s August 28th “I Have a Dream Speech,” which had skillfully crystallized the growing impatience of Civil Rights leaders with the lack of progress toward equality, Wallace struck again.

The September 4th edition of the Pittsburgh Press reported that two black students had registered to go to Murphy High School in Mobile, which at the time, was called the largest “white” high school in Alabama. 16 year-old Dorothy Bridget Davis and 17 year-old Henry Hobdy were about to become the first black students to integrate Alabama’s historically segregated schools - and the news was sent around the world.

During the previous school year, Hobdy had not faced nearly the kinds of hostilities he would soon face in Alabama. That’s because he spent his junior year at St. John’s High School in Uniontown.

He had been a student at “all-Negro” schools in Mobile though 10th grade. He then moved to Fayette County and lived with his aunt during the 1962 school year.

Young Hobdy played on the St. John’s basketball and baseball teams during that junior year. It’s not like he didn’t have any minor frustrations, back then.

According to the May 15th, 1963 edition of the Uniontown Evening Standard, he was the starting right fielder when his St. John’s Eagles lost 17-1 to the Fairchance Runners.

But childhood setbacks on a playing field usually leave few lasting scars compared to those caused by the roadblocks placed in their way by racially insensitive adults. Something Hobdy had to face just months after leaving Uniontown.

While he was among the first 20 black students to register in Alabama’s newly desegregated schools in September of 1963, Hobdy and his fellow black students were turned away when classes started.

The September 9th edition of the Pasadena (Ca) Star-News carried the story of how Hobdy and Dorothy Davis were greeted on their first day at Murphy High School by 150 Alabama State Troopers, an angry mob and, worse, a proclamation from Governor Wallace that ordered that they not be allowed to enter the school.

But the following day, after President John Kennedy federalized 17,000 Alabama National Guardsmen, Wallace backed down. Hobdy and the other black students were granted admission to schools in Mobile, Birmingham and Tuskegee.

Ironically, according to an extensive article in the Panama City (Fl) Herald on September 10th, Hobdy’s first class on that day was “problems in Democracy.”

It was also noted that a nearby police officer reported, “Everybody’s going about their business. There are no comments directed at the Negroes.”

Aside from one reported incident during that school year in which Hobdy had been injured when he either tripped or had been pushed, there were few national stories after his first days at Murphy High School.

Although I did find one story that sticks out. On May 29th (just over a year after Hobdy’s baseball team suffered that devastating loss to Fairchance High School), there was an Associated Press wire story that said Hobdy and Davis were among the 800 seniors to receive their diplomas from Murphy High School.

“There were no incidents during the ceremony,” it said.

This story, for me, didn’t end there. After it came across it, I felt compelled to try to locate Henry Hobdy.

I used all of the resources and cunning that Google allows to embark on an internet search for his whereabouts.
I found him.
I immediately called the number I found online, and (to my utter shock) he answered.

He’s now a U.S. Army retiree, who lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area. Despite only living in Uniontown for the 1963 school year, he still has a few vivid memories of that time, although some have blurred over the years. That’s understandable considering the life changing (and nation changing) year that followed.

He does remember playing baseball, basketball, and some of his classmates.

But, there is one of his Uniontown memories that, while painful for him, caused me to laugh out loud.

The diminutive (5’8”) Hobdy had taken to the basketball court against John Naponick (6’9”) of Norwin. Naponick proceeded to knock out one of his teeth.

That’s the same John Naponick who, during the same school year, nearly single-handedly destroyed the Uniontown Red Raiders’ hopes of repeating as State Champions.

I can safely say, I felt (and still feel) Hobdy’s pain.