Federal Judge Harold Lloyd Murphy dies



Judge Harold Lloyd Murphy presided over the landmark case of Knight v. State of Alabama. He died on Dec. 28.

Staff Report, Staff Reporter/ Writer

U.S. District Judge Harold Lloyd Murphy, who presided over and issued the order of relief in the landmark case, Knight v. State of Alabama, died on Dec. 28.
His historic rulings in the 1990s that racial segregation was present in Alabama’s higher education system had a major impact on the way Alabama’s institutions of higher learning were funded. It also had an impact on the state’s premier historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – Alabama State University and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University.
“His ruling and relief for both ASU and Alabama A&M through the Knight v. Alabama lawsuit that he presided over, changed higher education in Alabama forever in a positive manner, and uplifted Alabama’s lack community in a profound way that continues to resonate statewide,” said Judge U.W. Clemon, retired chief U.S. District Court Judge of Alabama’s Northern District and the first African American to serve on the federal court in Alabama’s history.
Murphy was appointed to oversee the landmark case in the 1990s after the Eleventh
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took all of Alabama’s federal judges off the case for various reasons related to impartiality. The Court of Appeals judges asked Murphy to hear and rule on the monumental issues of racism that were alleged and later found still to be present in Alabama in the 1990s, which affected Alabama State University and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in many negative and racist ways.
John F. Knight, Lh.D., retired executive vice president of Alabama State University, was the lead plaintiff in filing the lawsuit. He said he filed the lawsuit because of his strong beliefs in equality, fairness and equal protection under the law; his great love for the university; and his anger over the openly racist ways that the state government discriminated against Alabama State University, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University and other African American institutions of higher education in Alabama.
“Before Judge Murphy’s rulings, Alabama State University had no doctoral degree programs at all — NONE!,” Knight said passionately. “ASU did not receive adequate funding, and it and other Black schools were treated in a second-class manner. Our campus infrastructure and buildings, degree offerings, curriculum, equipment and so many other aspects of the campus were not competitive and after years of requesting assistance, officials within the state government kept ignoring us and our requests, while giving the traditional white schools seemingly unending funding.”
To make his ruling, Murphy took on the monumental task of digesting the testimony of 200 witnesses, perusing hundreds of thousands of pages of exhibits and reviewing more than 20,000 pages of transcripts. After his diligent efforts, he rendered an 840-page court order Dec. 27, 1991, and a second 198-page order Aug. 1, 1995, ruling that “vestiges of segregation had impeded and duly restricted both Alabama State University and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University” and that the 14th Amendment required the state to eliminate those vestiges.
Both Knight and Clemon agreed that Judge Murphy was an extraordinary man who believed in equal justice under the law. Knight hoped that Hornet Nation would reach out to Murphy’s family to express their gratitude for his lasting impact on the university.
That impact included remediations that provided for new state-of-the-art facilities and high-demand degree programs that included doctoral degrees and the university’s subsequent designation of Level VI status by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
In honor of his contributions, the university’s Board of Trustees voted in 2014 to rename the Alabama State University School of Graduate Studies to the Harold Lloyd Murphy Graduate School.
“Judge Murphy will forever be enshrined in the hearts of Alabama State University’s Hornet Nation Family because of the fair and impartial manner in which he presided over and ruled in Knight v. Alabama, which has helped to propel us to become one of the nation’s top institutions of higher learning. God’s speed and blessings, Judge Murphy,” Knight concluded.
The memorial service for Murphy will take place Feb. 10 at 1:30 pm at the Rome First United Methodist Church, 202 East 3rd Avenue, in his hometown of Rome, Georgia. A reception will follow in the church’s Wilder Center immediately following the service.