Robert R. Merhige Jr., who as a federal district court judge ordered the desegregation of many Virginia school districts, died on Feb. 18 in Richmond, Va. He was 86 and had recently had heart surgery.
School integration lagged in the state for years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka finding segregated schools unconstitutional. One of the cases decided in the Brown decision involved the Prince Edward County schools in Virginia.
Judge Merhige handed down desegregation orders that merged dozens of mostly black, urban school systems with neighboring majority-white systems in 1972. He also, in 1970, ordered the University of Virginia to admit women.
As a result of his ruling approving crosstown busing in Richmond, the judge and his family received death threats and were placed under round-the-clock protection by U.S. marshals.
A native of New York City, he was appointed U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. He retired in 1998, according to an announcement by Hunton & Williams, the Richmond-based law firm where Judge Merhige worked as a special counsel after he stepped down from the bench.
A version of this article appeared in the March 02, 2005 edition of Education Week