Overcoming Segregation in Alabama Becomes Responsibility of HBCUs

Article excerpt

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama--Jamie Fleming

is like other non-traditional college students in

several ways. He has a strife and a

nineteen-month-old son. He has a full-time

job and he commutes more than 240 miles a

week to attend classes. But until Fleming,

who graduated from an all-white high school

on rural Sand Mountain, Alabama, enrolled at

Northeast Alabama State Community College

on a scholarship, he had never sat in a

classroom with an African American.

Now Fleming, a twenty-three-year-old

junior majoring in secondary education, is

attending historically, Black Alabama A&M

University in Huntsville, Alabama, as part of

a court-ordered program designed to attract

white students. The scholarship he receives is

one of the desegregation remedies that grew

from a case the U.S. Justice Department

brought against Alabama in 1981 in an effort

to eliminate vestiges of segregation in its

colleges and universities.

Three trials and fifteen years later, U.S.

District Judge Harold Murphy told the state

its responsibility includes giving Alabama

A&M and Alabama State University in

Montgomery up to $1 million a year each for

ten years for scholarships to recruit white

students.

Murphy did not ask the mostly white

schools that shared the focus of the 1995 trial

to take further steps to increase minority

enrollment or faculty. As a result, some

officials--like James Cox, a member of

Alabama State's board of trustees--found

Murphy's 1,000-page decree a paradox

because little of the burden for integration

has fallen on Alabama's white

schools.

"None of us are completely satisfied

with the court order," said Cox, "but we will

adhere to it."

Scholarships and Enrollment

Alabama State, which offers scholarships to graduate

students as well as

undergraduate, has

increased its white

enrollment to 600 this

past fall--up from 397

in the fall of 1995,

when its enrollment

was more than 7.5

percent white.

In Alabama A&M's bachelor's degree

programs, white enrollment has hovered

between 5 and 6 percent in recent years,

officials said. This past fall, approximately

225 of Alabama A&M's 4,200 undergraduates

were white, according to James Heyward,

director of admissions.

However,

scholarships are not

available to white

graduate students at

Alabama A&M

because for years it has

attracted large numbers

of white students,

many in education, to

study for master's

degrees and advanced

teaching certificates.

Alabama A&M reports that about half of the

1,500 students in its graduate school classes

are white.

"A scholarship is just a thing to be used

as a catalyst to try to get the university to

resemble the population of society at large in

this section of the state,"

Heyward said.

In the 1995 trial, the two institutions

argued that they should get more resources

for more courses to help make up for what

they did not get during segregation. The

additional resources would be used to better

serve Black students as well as to attract

more white students. Alabama State now has

several doctoral and master's degree programs.

Alabama A&M also has new engineering

programs.

Heyward sees a benefit to the court

order. By bringing in more whites, he believes

that those students shill see--and tell

others--that many of the misconceptions

about African Americans and the education

available at HBCUs are just that

--misconceptions. …