Memorial Service Set for Judge Who Ruled in Favor of ASU in Landmark Knight v. Alabama Federal Lawsuit

– Judge Harold Loyd Murphy presided over 1990’s federal ASU civil rights case; ruled racial segregation was present in higher-ed.

– His ruling & relief provided hundreds of millions of dollars for many things at ASU and Alabama A&M University.

– Memorial service scheduled for Feb. 10 in Rome, Georgia.

 By Kenneth Mullinax/ASU

A memorial service has been set for former U.S. District Judge Harold Loyd Murphy, who presided over and issued the order of relief in the Landmark Knight v. Alabama lawsuit. Murphy, who was the United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Georgia, died December 28 at the age of 95. His historic rulings in the 1990s that racial segregation was present in Alabama’s higher education system had a major impact on Alabama’s public higher education system and on the state’s premier Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs), Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University.
The memorial service for the renowned judge will take place on 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. Miller Funeral Home is in charge.

“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 black 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 1990’s 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 the Alabama of the 1990’s, which affected ASU and A&M in many negative and racist ways.

Dr. John F. Knight, retired executive vice president of ASU, 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 of the University; and his anger over the openly racist ways that the state government discriminated against Alabama State University, Alabama A&M 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 a 840-page court order on Dec. 27, 1991, and a second 198-page order on Aug. 1, 1995, ruling that “vestiges of segregation had impeded and duly restricted both Alabama State University and Alabama A&M 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 and exhibited it with his many decades of Federal Court rulings. Knight expressed hope that Hornet Nation would reach out to Murphy’s family to express their gratitude for his lasting impact on ASU.

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 ASU School of Graduate Studies to the Harold Loyd 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.

About Author


Dr.Nikki Zeigler Publisher of The HBCU MAGAZINE

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