Ga. Board Selection Process Called Discriminatory

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Civil-rights activists in Georgia are challenging a state law that requires school-board members in some districts to be selected by county grand juries.

The law, which dates from the 1870's, requires grand-jury selection in 28 of the state's 186 school districts. Opponents of the system say it was designed to perpetuate white control of the districts and is now in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

"We believe this is a clear case of raial motivation," said Laughton McDonald, regional counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The aclu has filed suit over the law in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta on behalf of four black residents of Ben Hill County. The county is 30 percent black, but its five-member school board has never had a black member.

According to Mr. McDonald, blacks were elected to school boards throughout the state in large numbers during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.

But when whites regained political control in 1872, he said, they moved to have board members selected by grand juries. At the time, state law barred blacks from serving on grand juries.

While this racial barrier has since been removed, Georgia grand juries remain largely white, another aclu lawyer said, allowing the white majority to dominate boards in counties where the grand-jury selection system is still used.

Although the law originally applied to all Georgia counties, the state legislature over the years has granted exemptions allowing direct elections in the vast majority, Mr. McDonald noted.

State Senator Culver Kidd, a Democrat, is predicting that the legislature will vote to repeal the law entirely. He said he expected to obtain passage in this session of a bill that would require popular elections in all districts. A similar bill was defeated three years ago.

In Virginia, meanwhile, a federal judhe has said he will soon issue a ruling on another voting-rights suit brought against the state by the aclu The group is challenging the power of local officials to appoint school-board members. Virginia is the only state to forbid all board elections.

According to Chad Kendricks, the aclu's regional director in Richmond, a ruling in the case should be issued within the next two months.--wm

Vol. 07, Issue 19

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