Miss. School Desegregation Suit Settled

ByABC News

April 23, 2001 -- Mississippi will spend an extra $500 million on its three historically black colleges to settle a desegregation lawsuit filed 26 years ago, according to a deal announced today between the state, the Justice Department and plaintiffs.

In 1975, the late Jake Ayers Sr. filed a federal lawsuit on behalf on his son Jake Jr., a student at Jackson State University, and other students at Mississippi's black, public four-year colleges. Ayers and other plaintiffs claimed black colleges did not receive the same funding as predominantly white colleges and that the black universities could only be made more enticing to students with increased state funding. The Justice Department later joined Ayers and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit sought to improve the academic programs and facilities at Mississippi's three historically black colleges — Jackson State, Alcorn State, and Mississippi Valley State — by forcing the state to boost funding.

Today's settlement calls for Mississippi to provide $246 million over 17 years for academic programs at the three black universities. Another $75 million will be spent on capital improvement projects over a five-year period, and $70 million in public endowments and $35 million in private endowments will be provided for the institutions over a 14-year span.

In addition, Mississippi will recognize Jackson State University as a comprehensive higher education institution and designate Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson as the home of the JSU Tigers.

School Integration's Long Fight in Mississippi

Mississippi's state-run colleges resisted integration until 1962 when, under court order, James Meredith was admitted into the previously all-white University of Mississippi. But the Justice Department found in 1969 that Mississippi had failed to integrate its higher-education system, and the federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare ordered the state to develop an integration plan. When officials failed to produce one, the Justice Department began monitoring the state's efforts.

Mississippi had argued that it was making a sufficient attempt at integration by enforcing race-neutral school admission policies. However, the Ayers case prompted the federal government to sue then-Gov. Kirk Fordice, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that the state had to do more to integrate its higher education system. The court, noting that historically white colleges required higher minimum test scores of its students than historically black colleges, said the state appeared to rely on standardized test scores that discriminate against blacks.

Mississippi revised its admission standards, but various black citizens maintain the revisions are not enough. The Supreme Court has refused to hear the challenges to Mississippi's revised college admission plans and those disputes have continued in the state's lower courts.

Today's settlement calls for the dismissal of litigation related to the Ayers case. The plaintiffs in the Ayers case will have 45 days to review the terms of the settlement and then the U.S. District Court in Oxford, Miss., will schedule a hearing to approve the agreement.

ABCNEWS' Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

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