Desegregation of Fort Valley State College.
1975 (Feb 12)
United States District Court Judge Wilbur Owens, Jr., in Macon, Georgia, approved the Georgia State Board of Regents' plan for the desegregation of predominantly Black Fort Valley State College. The thrust of the plan called for upgrading academic programs, especially in agriculture, in order to attract more whites to Fort Valley State. Special education courses and a master's degree program in education were also parts of the plan. The suit against Fort Valley was filed in 1972 by a group of white citizens of the town who objected to a Black state school existing in their midst while their children attended other state schools. In his ruling, Judge Owens said: “there is no magic way whereby this college can be transformed overnight.” Yet, he continued, “the court feels the plan is real and it is designed to do what is necessary. The court believes the plan is evidence of an intention to attempt to do what the court says." Black faculty members and students at Fort Valley announced that they would probably appeal the judge's ruling. Some of them had joined the case with a contention that the desegregation suit was in reality an attempt by whites to take control of the school. Thomas M. Jackson, attorney for the Blacks, said some provisions of the plan were commendable, but that the "concept is most suspect that a college must be controlled or operated by whites in order to attract white students.” One of the attorneys for the Board of Regents told Judge Owens that there was no justification for Jackson's fears. In his ruling, Owens himself noted that "there are some who will say the plan will result in the demise of this college but the court feels that those fears are unfounded. . . . If the plan is carried out by everyone involved the end result will be that students who attend—be they Black, white or any other race—will get a good college education that they need, want, and ought to have!" Even before Judge Owens' ruling, some white faculty members were transferred to the school from other colleges and some white students had enrolled. About 25 percent of the faculty and student body were white at the time of the decision. The issues involved in the desegregation of Fort Valley State College were similar to those that have faced a number of predominantly Black colleges in the past decade. Federal law had dictated the dismantling of dual school systems. In most instances white-controlled state boards of regents or trustees had recommended the closing, merger, or transformation of predominantly Black colleges as a principal means of accomplishing these objectives. Blacks, while generally not opposed to the principle of desegregation, had often contended that the plans for achieving it would destroy essential elements of their cultural heritage and place them at an unfair disadvantage in competition for positions in the newly desegregated schools.