Attorney Says State Is Holding Up Mississippi’s Desegregation MoneyJACKSON, Miss.
An attorney representing those opposed to Mississippi’s college desegregation settlement says opposition could end if the state gave majority Black schools what they deserve.
“It is disingenuous to say Al Chambliss is causing the problem,” Alvin Chambliss Jr. said last month. “It is the state of Mississippi causing the problems by refusing to give the schools what they are entitled to. It is the removal of the vestiges (of segregation).”
Chambliss in recent months has filed a string of appeals of the $503 million Ayers settlement signed last spring by U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. (see Black Issues, May 10, 2001).
Chambliss said much of the blame with the failure to properly settle the complex case also rests with Biggers and other federal judges.
“The judge in the case has a constitutional obligation to deal with the real issues. So far, the courts have not tackled the issues confronting them,” Chambliss says. “Black people will get justice one way or another.”
Chambliss said he doesn’t know how long the appeals will lengthen the case.
Pam Smith, an assistant higher education commissioner, said appeals could go on for another year or two.
“It’s a terrible waste that we can’t fund it (the Ayers settlement),” she says.
Chambliss insists Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State should have received a great deal more money — even while appeals are pending.
Chambliss, who formerly represented Ayers’ plaintiffs for more than 20 years, now represents Lillie Ayers, the widow of the man who filed the lawsuit in addition to some professors and alumni. The group says the settlement is unfair and far short of what Jake] Ayers Sr. desired.
College Board member D.E. Magee Jr. of Jackson said he has tried to persuade Chambliss to drop the appeals. He said the appeals are holding up funds needed by the universities.
“It’s frustrating,” Magee says. “That (settlement) was our No. 1 priority.”
Magee said the appeals are slowing Jackson State’s construction of a $20 million engineering facility and delaying Alcorn State’s launch of a multimillion-dollar biotechnology program at Lorman, among other projects.
Another $75 million in capital improvements and much of the $245 million for academic programs over the next 17 years — the lifetime of the settlement — are on hold, Magee said.
Jake Ayers Sr. filed the lawsuit in January 1975 on behalf of Black college students. He said Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State universities were being underfunded compared to the state’s five majority-White universities. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and ordered remedies.
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