Overcoming Segregation in Alabama Becomes Responsibility of HBCUs: Community College Embroiled in Desegregation Issue

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Overcoming Segregation in Alabama Becomes Responsibility of HBCUs:. Community College Embroiled in Desegregation Issue

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Jamie Fleming is like other non-traditional college students in several ways. He has a wife 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 will see -- and tell others -- that many of the misconceptions about African Americans and the education available at HBCUs are just that --misconceptions.

"Oftentimes, people say things and they don't know always [whether] what they are saying is true," said Heyward. "These students like Jamie, for instance, will be able to counteract that. They will be able to say that, `Hey, wait a minute. That's not true. I was there. I went to school at A&M. Don't tell me that.'"

In addition to the money for the scholarship programs, each school will receive $1 million a year for fifteen years for endowment funds. …