Federal Judge Approves Mississippi Desegregation Settlement
A federal judge has approved a desegregation plan for Mississippi’s universities, signaling an end to a 27-year-old legal battle.
The lawsuit was filed in 1975 by the late Jake Ayers, the father of a Black college student, who accused the state of neglecting its three historically Black universities for decades. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and ordered remedies.
February’s order from U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. came a month after Mississippi lawmakers pledged to fulfill the requirements of the settlement, expected to cost more than $500 million.
Biggers had said he would approve the settlement only if lawmakers demonstrated they would support it financially. It would be paid over 17 years, with some money coming from private endowments.
“This is a great day for Mississippi,” says Reuben Anderson, the state’s first Black Supreme Court justice since Reconstruction and a key member of the settlement team.
“It is the first time I can remember when the government, the attorneys, the Legislature, the Justice Department and the plaintiffs have agreed to put something behind them and move on,” Anderson says. “I think every citizen in Mississippi will benefit from this.”
The settlement calls for $246 million to be spent on academic programs at the state’s traditionally Black institutions — Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities. An additional $75 million would go to capital improvement projects, $70 million to public endowments and up to $35 million for private endowments. Other programs, including summer classes for struggling students, would receive the balance.
Opponents of the settlement have pledged to continue the legal battle, saying the settlement was flawed and expensive.
Some Legislative Black Caucus members had said they were disappointed the settlement didn’t provide more to the historically Black universities.
Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Terry Burton says he hopes the judge’s action is “the end of a long and difficult case.”
“Hopefully, the three predominantly Black universities will see the benefits of our efforts … and we can move forward with a fair and equitable (college) system,” Burton says.
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