When Forrest Gump nervously peered over the shoulder of a fellow in a federally issued suit standing next to the feisty rooster that was George Wallace, Mike Raiford had seen enough.
"I was there," he exclaimed. His wife told him to be quiet, that everybody in the movie theater could hear him, but Raiford had to tell someone. "No, I was there."
On a day that his home state commemorated the 50th anniversary of Wallace's defiant charade in the schoolhouse door, Raiford talked about a 17-year-old freshman from Phenix City that, on his first day at the University of Alabama, had a front-row seat to history.
It was a great movie, but Forrest Gump wasn't really there. And there's no record of him toting a football for Bear Bryant either. Winston Groom, his creator, was on campus though, and so was Raiford.
Ink was still wet on his Central High diploma when Raiford's family drove him to Tuscaloosa. He had never been away from home alone when they left him at his dormitory on June 7, 1963.
That weekend, Raiford and some buddies went to town for a movie, and when they got back, the campus was sealed off, teeming with state troopers, conservation officers, policemen from all over the state and members of the Alabama National Guard. There were as many news people as there were lawmen.
"Word was out there was going to be trouble," he says. "I thought to myself, 'this college life was going to be exciting.'"
Everybody knew George Wallace was taking a stand against integration on Tuesday. The governor didn't care what the White House said. Black students weren't registering at his alma mater. The doorway to Foster Auditorium would be his stage.
What transpired was nothing but political theater.
"'Little George' took up his position to stand against the federal government -- at least that's what they told us. Standing all around were serious-looking men wearing dark suits in the Alabama heat . I had never seen as many people carrying guns in my life . It was over quickly. The guard marched in, and the governor left in his limo with the crowd cheering him on. I was caught up in the moment."
As his car crept past Raiford and his friends, Wallace waved and they waved back. "He gave us the victory sign. I may have given him one back," he said.
Ceremonies Tuesday marked those events. Articles have tried to put that landmark day in perspective, claiming it led to the creation of a different Alabama. In an era of violence, no guns were fired and no blood was shed.
Such things went over Raiford's head in 1963: "We went back to the dorm and found a game of pool."
Wallace went on to run for president three times, and at one campaign stop, he was seriously wounded, relegating him to a wheelchair for the last 26 years of his life.
Raiford graduated from Alabama in 1967 and never had a black classmate. He served in the Air Force,
finished law school and came home to practice law. That spectacle 50 years ago is only a memory.
"It was like a non-event after it happened," he said. "We went back to the dorm and never talked about what we had seen. I didn't know how important it was until later."
Raiford doesn't call it a watershed event in his own maturity or his view of other races.
"Something inside of me had always told me those things were wrong, but what could I do? You don't get above your raisin'," he said.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at www.twitter.com/hyattrichard.