Some Ayers plaintiffs want out
Ayers' widow says settlement provides no provisions for admission to state universities.
By Marty Russell
OXFORD - Some of the original plaintiffs in the Ayers college desegregation case presented their arguments to a federal judge Tuesday on why they should be allowed to withdraw from a settlement proposal and pursue further litigation.
Among the shortcomings of the proposed settlement, they argued, are no provisions for providing open admission to state universities, no remedy for what the historically black and some white schools see as a lack of representation on the state board of education, no professional schools at the black universities and inadequate funding for the schools' infrastructure needs.
Some of the plaintiffs in the 26-year-old case, including Lillie Ayers, widow of the late Jake Ayers of Glen Allen who filed the original suit charging the state discriminated against historically black colleges financially, want the case to continue in court.
Included in the group wanting out of the settlement, in addition to Ayers, are students and Senate faculties at the state's three historically black colleges.
In September, attorneys representing some of the plaintiffs, including 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, as well as the state said they support a proposed $500 million settlement in the case that would improve facilities and programs at the state's historically black colleges over a 17-year period.
But Ayers and groups representing those universities said they oppose the settlement and asked U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers to allow them to opt out of the proposed agreement and pursue litigation separately.
"The settlement, as I see it, is not getting rid of segregation," Lillie Ayers testified Tuesday. "Nothing is really being cleared up as far as the intent of the suit we filed. We have this big dollar sign up there of how much the state of Mississippi is going to pay to the Ayers case but there are so many strings attached."
Among those strings, witnesses said, are provisions that black schools make an effort to enroll white students.
Those historically black schools reaching a 10 percent white enrollment level would be entitled to a larger share of an endowment to be established for the schools.
Another problem with the settlement, according to the plaintiffs wanting out, is failure to address admissions standards which they claim inhibit blacks from enrolling.
Several witnesses testified that they want an open admission allowing all students who complete high school to attend state colleges without having to meet additional testing requirements.
"They should be able without any other requirement to enter any institution of higher learning they choose to enter," Ayers said.
James Douglas, an attorney and school administrator serving as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, agreed.
"If you graduate from junior high or middle school, you're ready to go to high school," Douglas said. "We need to make sure than anyone who graduates from high school can go to college."
But witnesses testified that some of the state's high schools aren't currently preparing students for college, particularly in minority areas of the Delta.
"Until high school can prepare people to pass college work, don't you think there should be some kind of standard?" Biggers asked, noting that currently any Mississippi high school graduate with a 3.0 grade point average can enter college without taking the ACT.
Testimony is scheduled to continue today in the case.