Court Denies Latest Appeal in Mississippi Desegregation Case

Court Denies Latest Appeal in Mississippi Desegregation Case

JACKSON, Miss.
Mississippi’s marathon college desegregation case may have to clear one more legal hurdle before the state can move ahead with a settlement supporters say will help traditionally Black universities heal from decades of neglect.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans late last month denied the appeal of private plaintiffs trying to opt out of the class-action settlement in order to continue their legal battle that began 29 years ago.
Those opposed to the settlement now have 90 days to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision on whether opponents will pursue their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court will hinge on continued financial support for their cause.
Alvin Chambliss Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he will discuss a Supreme Court appeal with his clients, including Lillie Ayers, widow of Jake Ayers, who originally filed the suit in 1975.
But, Chambliss said, the final decision to appeal likely will hinge on the endorsement of Black college leaders such as Howard University’s president emeritus, James Cheeks, who Chambliss calls “the guru of Black colleges.”
Chambliss says the 5th Circuit’s decision affects all traditionally Black colleges, and the appeal would need their help.
Opponents of the $503 million settlement have argued the relief is inadequate and more money is needed for programs and facilities at the historically Black universities. They also opposed a condition that 10 percent of the schools’ enrollment be non-Black before receiving negotiated endowments, and protested that uniform admission requirements were discriminatory.
The three-judge panel’s ruling rejected those claims and said the district court that approved the settlement did not abuse its authority. The federal court wrote the settlement contained “generous” funding for academic programs and that settling the case now would avoid potentially protracted litigation.
Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education David Potter called the settlement sound and said it will be carefully monitored for compliance and accountability.
“We are delighted with the court’s action on the settlement and we are grateful to the Legislature and the governor for their support of the funding which is making the settlement possible,” Potter said.
“I would really like to win the case, but sometimes you win in losing,” Chambliss said. “It’s a good day to understand that Black people have no rights.”
Leaders at the three public historically Black universities in the state agree the settlement isn’t perfect, but they are anxious for the bulk of the funds to become available.
“We have lost some of the buying power,” Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr., president of Alcorn State University, said of the approximately two years of appeals since the settlement was reached. “A building I could have built two years ago is going to cost more.”
At Jackson State University, the state’s only urban university, President Ronald Mason Jr. said the money is needed now.
“We have almost 300 engineering students with no facility to teach them in,” Mason said.
“It’s not for me to be happy or not,” he said of the agreement. “I work for the state of Mississippi and I work with what they give me to work with.”
Roy C. Hudson, Mississippi Valley State University’s vice president for university relations, has been involved in the Ayers litigation from the start.
“It’s been a very long and tedious process,” he said. “It is time to bring it to a close. Certainly, Valley needs the resources from the settlement.”
— Associated Press



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