Back in 1975, Jake Ayers Sr. sued the state of Mississippi, arguing that the state treated its three historically black colleges and universities differently than it did the state colleges and universities white students attended. A landmark case to desegregate higher education, the Ayers case, as it is known, wound its way through the courts for nearly 30 years, and ended in a $500 million settlement for the state’s HBCUs. That money is about to run out.
Adam Harris wrote about it an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He says the money has done some good, but that public universities in the state are still deeply segregated. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with Marketplace Weekend host Lizzie O’Leary.
Adam Harris: There have been gains, you know, they have new buildings or sometimes they have new programs — some of them are sustainable, some of them aren’t sustainable. I think that there are still some very fundamental problems that, you know, the government isn’t really focusing in on since Mississippi, according to them, has proven that they’ve desegregated their higher education system by settling the Ayers case.
Lizzie O’Leary: You know there’s this really interesting question when we talk about desegregation. What does it mean to desegregate an HBCU?
Harris: Yeah and that is the question that people are grappling with. Most people place the onus of desegregation on black colleges. It’s almost like blaming them for their history, which that they were created to serve undeserved populations, you know, the black population.