John F. Knight, Jr., alumnus of the Class of 1974 and State Representative of District – 76, former acting president, executive vice president and 30 year-plus employee of Alabama State University – who is credited by historians for his successful fight for fairness in higher education and social justice as the lead plaintiff in the groundbreaking Knight vs. Alabama lawsuit – will be the featured speaker at Alabama State University’s 295th Commencement Exercise on Saturday (May 13), at 9:45 a.m.
“John Knight’s vision, love for, and devotion to Alabama State University cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Leon C. Wilson, ASU’s Interim President.
“It’s is crystal clear to all who know the facts that Dr. Knight is among the top echelon of all-time ASU alumni who have contributed great positive efforts and achieved wondrous advancements for our University. Additionally, he helped create a level, fair and just playing field so that all four-year institutions in Alabama may have ‘equal opportunity’ through programs and funding regardless of their racial composition due to his historic leadership in the Knight vs. Alabama federal lawsuit,” Wilson added.
In the Knight vs. Alabama lawsuit, Dr. Knight fought for fairness in higher education, equal funding and government support for black colleges as its main proponent and lead plaintiff, which provided remedies for desegregation in Alabama’s colleges and universities.
In particular, for ASU and Alabama A&M University, due to U.S. District Judge Harold Lloyd Murphy ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the Knight case, tens of millions of dollars were awarded from the state of Alabama to ASU and A&M to establish endowments and make major capital improvements. As a direct result of the Knight case, the number of black faculty members has increased at traditionally white institutions to better reflect the racial diversity of the state. The landmark case has changed the face of higher education in the state of Alabama for decades to come in its work to lessen the age-old effects of slavery, segregation, and discrimination in the state.
Born in Montgomery, Ala., within just a few blocks of the ASU campus, Dr. Knight has always been in close physical and spiritual proximity of the University his entire life except for the time when he served his nation in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, where he was awarded one of the nation’s highest decorations for bravery and heroism in combat, the Silver Star.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Knight enrolled in ASU as a student, was elected by his peers as president of the Student Government Association and graduated in 1974 with a bachelor of Science degree. In 2008, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Alabama A&M University.
Shortly upon his graduation from ASU, he embarked upon his 30 year – plus employment at Alabama State University, and his career in elected public service; where he served as a member of the Montgomery County Commission from 1980 – 1992 and then was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1993, where he continues to serve as one of its veteran members.
In his years at the Alabama State House, Knight has become one of the Legislature’s most active and respected members.
In 1999, he made history becoming the first black resident in the state of Alabama to serve as the chairman of its general fund (Ways & Means) budget committee in the House. Knight led the charge in the House of Representatives to administer billions of state dollars for non-education government agencies, including Corrections, Public Safety, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs and others until he left his chairmanship in 2010. During his years as budget chairman, state funding for public health care for Alabama’s most vulnerable citizens increased by more than $418 million. He continues to serve on the Ways & Means General Fund, Health and Montgomery County Legislation committees.
Knight is also very involved in the Montgomery community and serves on a number of community organization boards, which includes the Montgomery Housing Authority, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Development Council, and both the Kershaw and Cleveland Avenue YMCA. He is the chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Conference and a member of Leadership Montgomery and Leadership Alabama.
He enjoys family life as a father and grandfather, and is an avid and gifted golfer.