By Budd McLaughlin
“It’s for real, there is one here.”
That was an eye-opening line in the documentary “Three Days at Foster.”
The “one” refers to Wendell Hudson, the first black basketball player at the University of Alabama, when he was eating in the dining hall.
The film tells the story of integration in the Tide’s athletic program, referencing Foster Auditorium, where former Gov. George Wallace made his famed stand in the “schoolhouse door.”
Foster was also where the basketball team played and students registered for classes.
The writer/director/producer of the film is Athens native Keith Dunnavant. He brought his “little film back to Athens” last week with a showing in Athens State’s Standidge Center Ballroom.
“Foster is a monument to the power of change,” he said.
The “first day” is Wallace’s choreographed stand; the “second day” is the story of Danny Treadwell, the first black player at a predominantly white school – Huntsville’s Butler High in the early 1960s – during the state basketball championship at Foster; and the “third day” is when former Tide running back Wilbur Jackson brings his daughter to the reunion of the 1973 team. Jackson was the first black player to sign a football scholarship with Alabama.
Dunnavant isn’t a stranger to compelling stories. He is a veteran journalist – that’s hard for me to say since he was a stringer for me in 1979 when I was the sports editor at the old Huntsville News and he was barely in high school. Along with his newspaper background, he’s written and edited magazines and books.
His credits include biographies of football icons Paul “Bear” Bryant (“Coach”) and Bart Starr (“America’s Quarterback”) and two other classics about the sport, “The Missing Ring” and “The Fifty-Year Seduction.”
“Three Days” is his first foray into film and it was an 18-month-long project.
It premiered this year, was an official selection of Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival and garnered second place in the documentary category at the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival.
Key players in the film are the five black players who walked on at Alabama in 1967 when nearly every other team in the SEC was segregated. The group included Dock Rone, the first black player to suit up for the Tide.
“The walk-ons had never been on camera,” Dunnavant said. “This was compelling.”
Perhaps Jackson had one of the best comments on how times have changed.
“We don’t have to think about it, anymore,” said Jackson. “That’s a blessing.
“You don’t want to forget about it, either.”
Budd McLaughlin is managing editor of The News Courier.