Court imposes black policy

March 31, 1995

Mississippi has been ordered to spend $35 million on its historically black universities by a federal judge who has said the state may not close one of its three black colleges as planned, writes Lucy Hodges.

For the past 20 years the case, which has been called Brown v Board of Education, after the famous school desegregation case, has been wending its way through the courts. Mississippi was accused of maintaining separate higher education systems for blacks and whites at its five white and three black universities - a hangover from segregation.

This month's ruling struck down Mississipi's practice of using different admissions standards for its black and white campuses. Standards vary, though the requirements for the black universities are less rigorous.

The judge ordered the state to renovate Jackson State University and boost graduate programmes to attract more white students.

The judge said also that the state must upgrade Alcorn State University, a black land-grant college, through extra research funding and an MBA programme, both of which would attract whites.

Finally, the ruling required that the state give Jackson State and Alcorn State money for scholarships for white students.

The lawsuit was filed in 1975 by a black man on behalf of his son and 21 other students. The justice department, a longstanding critic of the state's higher education system, sided with the plaintiffs.

A judge ruled in 1987 that the state had ended segregation. But in 1992, the supreme court disagreed, and said the mostly black colleges were inferior and underfunded.

Mississippi was told to scrap its system. But to the horror of students and supporters of black universities, the state threatened to close black Mississippi Valley State and combine it with Delta State. It proposed also to merge the mostly white Mississippi University for Women with the mostly white Mississippi State University. The judge said, while the state may close institutions for financial or other reasons, it may not shut them as part of a desegregation plan.

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