Alabama College Desegregation Case Heading Back to Federal Court

It was more than 43 years ago when Governor George C. Wallace made his infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” before stepping aside and allowing federal marshals to register the first black students at the University of Alabama. Since that time, there has been an ongoing struggle to bring greater racial diversity to Alabama’s public universities.

Federal district court judge Harold Murphy has set plans for a trial this fall to determine whether the state of Alabama has complied with previous orders to desegregate its state university system. Attorneys representing the black plaintiffs claim that the state’s two historically black institutions — Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University — have not been authorized to establish degree programs that will be attractive to white students. Therefore, the student bodies at these institutions remain almost entirely black.

While there has been some progress in increasing the number of black students at the University of Alabama and other predominantly white state universities in Alabama, the black percentage of the student body at these institutions is less than one half of the black percentage of the college-age population in Alabama. In addition, the plaintiffs argue that there has been only limited progress in the hiring of black faculty, administrators, and staff members at the predominantly white universities.

Plaintiffs also want the state to offer more financial aid to blacks and other students from low-income families. More than three quarters of all state financial aid to college students is based on merit rather than need.

George Wallace making his infamous speech in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963

credit: AP Images