A fourth trial will begin this fall in Alabama’s long-running college desegregation case, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy, who has been presiding over a case that had its origins a quarter-century ago, said he would soon issue a written order setting a trial date for sometime in late September or early October.
Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University have contended that the state’s higher education system has vestiges of the segregation era, including a lack of programs and facilities at the two schools and a low number of Black students, faculty and administrators at the predominantly White schools.
Parties in the case have said negotiations stalled last fall over issues of hiring more Black staff members at predominantly White universities and the state’s lack of need-based college scholarships.
Jim Blacksher, who is representing the state’s two historically Black schools, says Alabama is one of two states in the Southeast without “a meaningful financial aid program.”
“There’s nothing radical that we’re proposing,” Blacksher told The Birmingham News. “It’s all good policy that’s being implemented everywhere else in the country.”
Robert Hunter, an attorney representing the state in the case, says both sides had hoped a trial would not be necessary, but he says the parties involved will try to resolve some matters before the trial.
“The court encouraged that,” Hunter says. “I do think there will be a number of institutions that will be able to work out settlements before the hearing, but from the perspective of the state, our issues are different. They’re larger scale and while we’re certainly hoping to discuss solutions and removing court oversight, so far we’ve not had a lot of success.”
Murphy has already overseen two of the three major higher education trials in the 25-year-old case, and issued far-reaching rulings in 1991 and 1995. He said last week that the defendants would have the burden of proving their compliance to past rulings, but said the court would assume compliance unless objections were made about specific issues.
“That relieves us of the burden of having to prove all the things we’ve done over the past 15 years,” Hunter says.
— Associated Press
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