They bid adieu to Robert Morris, the remarkable law professor, in a simple, elegant service in a downtown Phoenix church recently.
Morris, 65, the only black member of the Arizona State University law faculty, had left a request. He wanted his funeral concluded by the playing of one of his favorite pieces, Miles Davis' trumpet version of "Bye Bye Blackbird." They even went Professor Morris one better. They hired a professional jazz singer to do an upbeat version of the tune as they rolled his casket down the center aisle and out of the church that was packed with mourners.
Many of them had been Professor Morris' students at ASU Law School. By now, they had become judges and heads of their own law firms. Much loved by many, he had been the only black member of the faculty at ASU for 25 years.
His wife, Barbara, his daughters, Robin and Holly, and son John were in the front pew. Robin and Holly, both now lawyers on their own, spoke briefly during the service.
Even before his sudden death because of a heart attack suffered while playing tennis, Professor Morris had been scheduled to receive an award this Friday night at the fourth annual Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship dinner at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Phoenix.
The purpose of the dinner, sponsored by the Hazel B. Daniels Bar Association, is to endow law scholarships at ASU and the University of Arizona.
Professor Morris will be represented by his daughter Robin, who will accept the award for him. She is now a law professor at the University of Oregon, having previously taught law at Tulane, Washington and Lee, and Pacific University.
Robin spoke recently about what it had been like for her father to be the only black professor on an all-white faculty.
"My father told me he had turned out to be what seemed to be the exceptional Negro who outperformed white expectations of him," said Robin. The irony and understatement carries the message. Both Professor Morris and his father before him had been graduates of Northwestern Law School.
Letters Professor Morris wrote just days before succumbing to the heart attack reveal the depth of his feeling about the lack of progress in the area of racial harmony at ASU.
To Janis B. Williams of the Hazel B. Daniels association, he had written:
"Perhaps the honor that the association has seen fit to confer upon me is premature because of some unfinished business at the Law School. During these latter years, I was unable to persuade the Faculty to implement affirmative action programs in recruiting minorities for faculty positions. A substantial group on the faculty is opposed to affirmative recruitment of minorities. . . .
"Others believe that minorities do not have the intellectual 'horsepower' to perform up to the standards that they believe they exemplify. . . .
"The Law School's way of turning the process around is to hire all white females, because under the guidelines at Arizona State, you may recruit white females and meet your goals and timetables, in terms of affirmative action hires, until the faculty is 50 percent females.
"I resigned October 31, 1992, primarily because of the racist attitudes at the Law School. I only involved myself this year because I was asked by the Dean to help in the recruitment of minority candidates.
"It would give me great pleasure if your organization, working through the Mexican-American Bar Association, and involving Art Hamilton, Pete Rios, Stan Furman and Grant Woods, would help in investigating that process. If we could turn them around, I will have achieved a goal that I cherish."
Previously, Professor Morris had written to Dean Richard J. Morgan of the law school. This letter is even more pointed:
"I have been at the law school 25 years. I was the first minority appointed to this faculty, and 25 years later, nothing has changed.
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"I am still the only minority member of this faculty . . . the corrosive effect of this racial hostility has taken its toll. I can't change it, and they can't change it, either.
"The ability to maintain this apartheid policy did not occur by happenstance. It was a policy that has been carefully structured and maintained over the years."
With the death of Professor Morris, there is now not a single black faculty member at ASU Law School.
So much for progress.