Tompkins v. Alabama State University

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Jessie Tompkins et al. v. Alabama State University et al. was a legal case involving affirmative action, that was decided in a United States Federal Court.

This was the first case filed by an African American student to challenge the existing race-based affirmative action admission policy at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama. In Tompkins, four black applicants who had been rejected for the Alabama State University white-only scholarship program filed suit to challenge the institution's admissions policy on equal protection grounds, and their case prevailed. To Tompkins, the issue was a simple one: "They said I have to be white and I can't be." "It's strange," says Tompkins. "You have a historically black institution giving scholarships to whites to remedy discrimination."[1]


Tompkins posing in front of U.S. Federal Court House Montgomery, Alabama

Jessie Tompkins v. Alabama State University et al., 97-M-1482-S (N.D. Ala. 1998, herein referred to as ASU) was a suit which Tompkins filed Pro se.[2] Tompkins was influenced by Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), which was the first successful legal challenge to a university's affirmative action policy in student admissions since Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). The Tompkins case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama before Judge Myron Herbert Thompson. Tompkins alleged that he was denied equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the rights guaranteed by 42 U. S. C. Sections 2000d, 1981 and 1983 of the Civil Rights Act to participate in ASU’s All-White Scholarship Program.


The Tompkins litigation[edit]

White-Only Scholarship Brochure used by ASU to recruit white student only. The university awarded 40% of its budget for academic grants to whites.

On 1 October 1997, Plaintiffs Jessie Tompkins, Audra Beasley, James W. Scott, and Rodney Smith filed the Tompkins lawsuit on behalf of all non-white individuals similarly situated to Plaintiffs.[3] In the Plaintiff's second amended complaint, the plaintiffs outlined class action grounds to eliminate the scholarship's race requirement. The Plaintiffs presented themselves as non-represented black citizens of the State of Alabama, and thus are members of the class certified in the Knight litigation (see below). Plaintiffs claim that the "other-race" scholarships created at Alabama State pursuant to the Court's 1995 Decree in Knight II violate their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981, 1983, and 2000d. The Plaintiffs named as Defendants the State of Alabama, ASU, the ASU Board of Trustees, and various ASU administrators. The Plaintiffs sought to certify this case as a class action pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Parts 23(b)(2) and 23(b)(3).

The Knight litigation[edit]

The Knight litigation commenced on 15 January 1981, when John F. Knight Jr., and a class of other alumni, students, and faculty members of Alabama State University (ASU) filed suit in the Middle District of Alabama to attack alleged vestiges of segregation in public higher education. The lawsuit was Knight v. Alabama, 900 F. Supp. 272, 280 (N.D. Ala. 1995) ("Knight II").

Outcome of Tompkins[edit]

In August 2000, the University and Tompkins failed to settle the case. Tompkins rejected the proposed settlement because he believed that it allowed the University to change the language of the scholarship program's literature, without actually altering who would receive scholarships.[4] Although it was not resolved, the case raised pivotal questions: Should publicly funded historically Black universities offer (to other races) scholarships to diversify their institutions? And, will other-race scholarships guide historically Black universities away from their historical mission?

See also[edit]


  1. ^ June Kronholz, The Wall Street Journal, "Double Reverse Scholarship Program for Whites Becomes a Test of Preferences". 23 December 1997, p. 1
  2. ^ Malcolm Daniel, The Montgomery Advertiser, Student Fights College Program, ASU Scholarship Program Gains National Attention. 9 January 1998, p. B-1
  3. ^ Tompkins v. Alabama State University et al., 97-M-1482-S (N.D. Ala. 1998)
  4. ^ Montgomery Advertiser, Discrimination Lawsuit against ASU Likely to end in Courtroom. 8 August 2000, p. B-1

External links[edit]

  • [1] ASU Protests Jessie Tompkins interview
  • [2] ABC News Interview/ DC Trip Jessie Tompkins
  • [3] NBC News Settlement Interview with Jessie Tompkins
  • [4] ABC News Settlement Interview with Jessie Tompkins
  • [5] Jessie Tompkins NBC News Poll Results
  • [6] District Court Order
  • [7] Writ Of Certiorari to U.S. Supreme Court