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Mississippi Reaches $500 Million Settlement in Desegregation Case

By Michael A. Fletcher
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Washington

Mississippi agreed Monday to end more than a quarter century of legal battles over the desegregation of its higher education system, reaching a $500 million settlement intended to remedy decades of state-sanctioned racial discrimination.

The agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and a group of black Mississippians, filed Monday in federal court, could mark the end of a class action lawsuit initiated in 1975 to desegregate the state’s public colleges and universities. A federal judge must approve the settlement.

The lawsuit sought to improve programs and facilities at the state’s three historically black universities: Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State. It alleged that those schools offered educational opportunities inferior to those at the state’s five historically white universities because of the state’s history of racial discrimination.

The agreement calls for $246 million to be spent over 17 years on academic programs at the three historically black universities. The programs include a new engineering school at Jackson State and a business school at Alcorn State.

Also, $75 million will be spent on capital improvement projects at the schools. The settlement provides $70 million in public endowments and a pledge to raise $35 million in private endowments for the historically black colleges and universities over a 14-year period.

The settlement also increases funding for a summer program adopted by the state in 1995 to help students who do not qualify for regular admission to Mississippi’s university system, providing $6.25 million over a 10-year period for financial aid to students.

“The important agreement that we have reached with the state of Mississippi will increase access to quality educational opportunities and benefit all of Mississippi’s students and citizens,” said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that the state’s higher education system -- which includes the flagship campus at the University of Mississippi as well as Mississippi State University -- was separate and unequal. It ordered a federal court to fashion a remedy.