Alabama State University President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., said that “Justice delayed is not justice denied” when it comes to the action taken by the outgoing superintendent of the State Board of Education, which took place on May 10. Dr. Ed Richardson expunged the files of 29 students, nine of whom were wrongly expelled from ASU for their involvement in a peaceful protest at the historic lunch counter sit-in, which took place inside the segregated restaurant at the Montgomery County, Ala. Courthouse on Feb. 25, 1960.
“We are extremely grateful to Dr. Ed Richardson who saw fit to make this correction to the state’s history,” said Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr., who became ASU’s 15th president in October.
Richardson, who acted in his authority as the Interim Superintendent of the Alabama State Board of Education, also expunged all documents pertaining to the firing of ASU faculty members. The letter penned by Richardson chastised the then state board of education’s actions and apologized to everyone who was expelled from ASU, fired from their jobs or placed on probation.
“While no current state board member or department employee is responsible for the actions at issue, I regret that it has taken 58 years to correct this injustice. I can only hope that this action will provide a modicum of comfort to the people affected,” Richardson wrote in his letter. (Full letter attached below).
President Ross said that the initial idea to get the record’s expunged of those at ASU who were involved in the 1960 lunch counter sit-in protest had first sprung-up from the chairman of ASU’s History and Political Science Department, Dr. Derryn Moten.
Moten had been working on this project for months in an attempt to get the state of Alabama to issue a resolution to undo what the State Board of Education had done in 1960 before he brought it to Ross and asked him to join him; after he had hit one bureaucratic dead-end after another. That is when Ross contacted his many sources within state government.
Ross and Moten then diligently worked on ways to get the current State Board of Education to right the injustice done in 1960 when its students were arrested under Alabama’s Jim Crow segregation laws, which prohibited African-American citizens from eating at “white only” lunch counters.
“Alabama State University was at the very center of the Civil Rights Movement and its students, faculty and staff laid their education, jobs and, in many cases, their lives on the line to ensure that black Americans gained their basic rights,” Ross said.
Moten believes the May 10, action is the first time the state of Alabama has taken any official action admitting to any wrongdoing related to the state’s first lunch counter sit-in protest.
He said that the sit-in was the brainchild of employees and students at the state-sponsored school (ASU), which is one of America’s oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). ASU celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding by nine former slaves in 2017.
“To me, this was such an egregious wrong that I just wanted it righted. I am so satisfied and pleased we were able to get this done,” Moten said.
According to a recent news account, only three of the original nine students who were expelled are alive today: James McFadden, 78, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Joseph Peterson, 83, of Birmingham; and St. John Dixon, 80, of Richmond, California.
The University took action in an attempt to do the right thing on February 25, 2010, in a ceremony commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the sit-in. On that day, Alabama State University reinstated the nine students expelled in 1960, criticized then-governor Patterson’s “arbitrary, illegal and intrusive” role in forcing the expulsions, and praised the student protest as “an important moment in civil rights history.” Three of the 1960 students were then honored at ASU’s Spring commencement ceremony on May 8, 2010 as then ASU President William Harris awarded them honorary degrees before over 6,000 at the ASU Dunn-Oliver Acadome.
President Ross, a 15-year veteran of the Alabama State Senate before assuming the ASU presidency, first considered going to the Alabama Legislature for some type of justice in the matter, but upon the advice of attorneys, determined that the acts perpetrated on the University’s students and faculty members rested with the State Board of Education.
“I contacted the Governor’s Office and checked it out through them, and was informed that the authority lay not with the governor, but with the State Board of Education. That is when I spoke with Dr. Richardson and he made it happen,” Ross said.
Ross said he and Dr. Moten received an unexpected call on May 10, to attend Richardson’s last meeting as superintendent of the Board of Education, where they were surprised to learn of Richarson’s letter and action.
“Those who lost their jobs or academic status because of their participation in the historic sit-in at the Montgomery County Courthouse are national heroes who deserved to have their records expunged,” Ross said.