1994-9-1: Ex-Alabama Principal Denies Racial Comment

The New York Times
Published: September 01, 1994

The former high school principal at the center of a racial drama in this northeast Alabama town for months denied today that he had called a biracial student a mistake.

In his first public comment on the controversy, Hulond Humphries, the former principal of Randolph County High School, also said he had tried to stop interracial couples from attending a prom in the spring to head off violence among students.

“It would be interesting to see what you would have done in the same situation,” Mr. Humphries said at a news conference. “I think, with the burning of the school, even you may see that I might have had some reason to be very concerned.”

He also discussed reports of his confrontation with last year’s junior high school student president, Revonda Bowen, who sued the school board in Federal court maintaining that the former principal had called her a mistake because she has a white father and a black mother.

“Let me say emphatically, that I never called a student a mistake,” Mr. Humphries said to a round of applause from 100 white supporters who attended the news conference. “The superintendent and the board lawyer investigated the alleged incident and after questioning many students and faculty members found no evidence to report to the board.”

Instead, the former principal accused Ms. Bowen of being disrespectful when she stood up at a school assembly in February and asked whom she was supposed to take to the prom. The principal said his reponse to Ms. Bowen was, “That’s our problem: disrespectful students.”

Mr. Humphries, 55, was the Randolph County principal for 26 years before the school board reassigned him early this month under pressure from the Justice Department.

In February, he drew national attention to this textile town of 900 by threatening to cancel the prom if interracial couples planned to attend.

“I have always been concerned about the safety of our students. By Feb. 24, when I held the first assembly, previous events had given me reason to be very concerned,” he told his audience, gathered near the site where the school building once stood. Fire Leads to F.B.I. Inquiry

The school was destroyed in a fire on Aug. 6 that local officials say was arson. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been investigating the fire, which also led to the principal’s transfer. Mr. Humphries said he had not spoken out in public up until now on advice from his lawyer.

After he finished his remarks, some of his supporters and civil rights leaders at the news conference got into a brief shouting match.