Ivey appoints student who integrated University of North Alabama, former Reagan staffer to university’s board of trustees
Governor Kay Ivey’s office on Thursday announced that she has appointed Dr. Wendell Wilkie Gunn, the student who integrated the University of North Alabama (UNA) in 1963, to the university’s board of trustees.
After graduating from UNA, which was then known as Florence State, in 1965 with his chemistry degree, Gunn continued to live a life that made his alma mater and the people of Alabama proud.
A Tuscumbia native, he further pursued his education at the University of Chicago, which was followed by Gunn’s prolific career as a finance professional, serving as vice president at Chase Manhattan Bank and assistant treasurer at PepsiCo. He also served in the White House as a senior advisor, special assistant for International Trade, to then-President Ronald Reagan.
The appointment to UNA’s board comes amid the 55th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which took place one year after Gunn enrolled at the northwestern Alabama university. He is now the first person to have integrated a Yellowhammer State university and later become a member of its governing body.
“Dr. Gunn is making history at UNA, and this is truly a monumental step for the University,” Ivey emphasized in a statement.
Gunn accepted the appointment with humility and expressed enthusiasm for helping the university serve its students and community.
“I am honored by this appointment and will be seeking ways to work with Dr. Kitts and the other trustees on the principal mission of UNA, which I assume will be the delivery of a world-class education to UNA students, with the maximum affordability, consistent with target quality,” Gunn said. “I also believe that UNA has a unique and compelling history of accomplishment and change that needs to spread beyond its immediate community. I intend to be instrumental in this endeavor.”
Ivey remarked, “When appointing Dr. Gunn to serve on the Board of Trustees, I knew that he would exemplify the honesty and integrity that I seek in our candidates. I appreciate Dr. Gunn’s willingness to serve the state in this capacity.”
UNA President Dr. Ken Kitts, who presided over the naming ceremony of The Wendell Wilkie Gunn Commons dedication in 2018, views this appointment as bringing Gunn’s history with UNA “full circle.”
“I know of no other example out there where a student entered under the circumstances that he did, went on to graduate, and then returned to join the institution’s governing body. This is truly full circle for Dr. Gunn,” Kitts said. “We welcome him to our Board of Trustees. These are the individuals who collaborate and come together to set the vision for the University. Dr. Gunn is ideally positioned for this assignment by virtue of his temperament, intelligence, and experience.”
When Gunn sought admission to UNA in 1963, he was represented by renowned civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who had represented Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Gray also successfully represented Vivian Malone and James Hood, who both entered the University of Alabama in 1963. In fact, lawsuits filed by Gray helped desegregate more than 100 local school systems, as well as all public colleges and universities in the Yellowhammer State.
Of the Gunn case, Gray said, “[It was] the easiest civil rights case I ever had.”
“I am extremely happy that Dr. Gunn has been appointed to the UNA board,” Gray added. “And I am overjoyed and proud of what this says about the University of North Alabama itself. Of all my many clients, Dr. Gunn is the first to be appointed to the governing board of the institution that he helped desegregate.”
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Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn