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Call the remark an innocent attempt at humor or maybe a sign of how far we’ve come — but it’s likely the dean of the University of Georgia law school would like to call it back. It happened when Dean David E. Shipley offered his welcome to a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals that heard oral arguments in the law school’s courtroom on April 5. Presiding Judge Marion T. Pope Jr. had noted that he and Judge Anne E. Barnes were Georgia law graduates, and Shipley said it was nice to see them back in Athens. Then Shipley turned to Judge John H. Ruffin Jr. and added jokingly, “We don’t hold it against you that you didn’t go to law school here.” Showing a broad grin, Ruffin shot back, “You wouldn’t let me in.” The room of about 100 students and professors burst into laughter, realizing that Ruffin, who is black, must have gone to law school before a federal judge ordered the university integrated in 1961. Indeed, Ruffin graduated from Howard University School of Law in 1960 and went on to start a practice highlighted by winning a 1972 federal suit that desegregated the Richmond County school system. Shipley, taken aback from his inadvertent faux pas, nonetheless kept his feet and said, “Times have changed.” Ruffin said in an interview later that he hadn’t applied to UGA Law because he had seen Horace T. Ward spend six years in the 1950s pursuing an unsuccessful suit to break the color barrier and gain admission. Ward, now a senior federal judge in Atlanta, went on to graduate from Northwestern University’s law school and co-represent the plaintiffs who won the suit that integrated UGA. Set on getting through law school and starting his career, Ruffin said, “I didn’t want to go through that hassle.” Ruffin said his response to Shipley was meant to be purely humorous, adding, “It’s good that we can laugh at these things.” For his part, Shipley said he took Ruffin’s response as “good natured,” given the two have become friendly after serving on boards together. But Shipley added that Ruffin’s reminder of Georgia’s history was “quite appropriate.” When he started to speak that morning, Shipley said, “it didn’t cross my mind” that Ruffin hadn’t gone to UGA because of racial segregation. Shipley said he should have thought of it, however, because just last year Ward came to the law school to give a lecture on his legal fights with the university. The first black law student at Georgia graduated in 1966, Shipley said.

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