Judge Declines to Let Some Plaintiffs
Withdraw from Ayers Settlement
A federal judge has refused, for the time being, to allow Lillie B. Ayers and other plaintiffs to withdraw from a proposed settlement aimed at ending Mississippi’s 26-year-old college desegregation case.
A $500 million agreement to end the case was signed by all sides in April (see Black Issues, May 10). U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr., charged with overseeing the long-running efforts to desegregate the state’s three historically Black universities, is reviewing the proposal. In a decision made public late last month, Biggers ruled the efforts by Lillie Ayers to divide the plaintiff class into two groups were premature.
Lillie Ayers and other plaintiffs who oppose the negotiated agreement don’t want to be bound by the settlement if it is approved by Biggers. The motion was filed by Alvin Chambliss, a law professor at Texas Southern University and lead plaintiff counsel for 25 years until being replaced when he moved out of Mississippi.
Chambliss had contended the proposed deal does not address Black schools being relegated to institutions governed by an overwhelmingly White college board with out-of-date mission statements, limited academic programs and unfair admission standards.
Biggers, in the May 16 order, declined to conduct a hearing on the motion by Lillie Ayers. “The court determines that it is premature for any plaintiffs to attempt to opt out of the class because they are in disagreement with a proposed plan advocated by other plaintiffs when the proposed plan has not been approved by the court,” Biggers wrote.
Mississippi was sued in 1975 by the late Jake Ayers, the father of a Black college student who claimed the state was neglecting historically Black schools. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that the state still had segregated universities.
Biggers said Lillie Ayers and other plaintiffs could submit their concerns Sept. 4, when he will conduct a hearing for objectors to the settlement.
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