25-year-old Ala. college desegregation case ends

/ Source: The Associated Press

A 25-year-old desegregation case against Alabama has ended, with a federal judge ruling that vestiges of segregation in its higher education system have been eliminated.

In an order Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy approved agreements that settle the case, which so far has generated $210 million in state funds for the desegregation effort, most of it going to historically black Alabama A&M and Alabama State University.

Murphy said the state, its historically white universities and other defendants have eliminated traces of segregation "to the extent practicable and consistent with sound educational practice ... and have demonstrated their commitment to continuing to operate in a constitutional and non-discriminatory fashion."

"We worked hard to have a court ... say those kinds of things about higher education in Alabama. That's quite an accomplishment," state's attorney Robert Hunter said.

Retired teacher Alease Sims of Birmingham, a plaintiff in the suit, said the legal fight had accomplished a lot.

"It has been a privilege and an honor for me to do something to help my people and all the citizens of Alabama," she told The Birmingham News.

Murphy has issued the two major orders in the case and has approved agreements by the parties to settle other issues.

New classrooms, scholarships
Out of those orders and agreements have come or will come additional courses, new money for classroom buildings, diversity scholarship and endowment funds for the state's historically black universities.

There's also the creation of a unified Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, increased funding for a need-based scholarship program, and agreements by the historically white universities and some of the state's two-year schools to work to boost their numbers of black faculty and administrators.

State Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, a key plaintiff in the case, has said that by 2014, when the last of the court-ordered requirements expire, A&M and ASU each will have received more than $200 million.

Knight also said he expects that by 2014, $100 million will have gone into the state's need-based financial aid program.

Six objections were filed to settling the case. But Murphy said that in "substance and amount," the objections were not enough to justify his disapproval of the agreements.

A spin-off issue over Alabama's lowest-in-the-nation property tax structure is still being litigated. Plaintiffs contend it keeps blacks from getting financial aid needed for higher education. Murphy ruled against plaintiffs, who are appealing to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.