Trial Starts over Black Universities Desegregation Case Goes Back 19 Years

Article excerpt

Efforts by blacks to reshape Mississippi's college system will only perpetuate the kind of discrimination they have fought for years to overcome, a lawyer for the state's universities said Monday in opening remarks.

"This case has come down to a situation of encouraging black students in this state to attend historically black colleges and discouraging them from attending white colleges," said Bill Goodman, who represents the state College Board in the trial of a 19-year-old desegregation case.

The 1975 suit accusing Mississippi of maintaining separate higher education systems for blacks and whites sought more money and better programs for historically black universities. The U.S. Justice Department, long critical of Mississippi's educational system, joined the case.

"Black citizens are like the caboose on the train," said Robert Pressman, who represents the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers ruled in 1987 that the state had done enough to end segregation at its universities. But the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed in 1992 and ordered Mississippi to remove all vestiges of the dual system.

To the dismay of students and advocates of black colleges and universities, the state responded with a plan to shut down one of its three black schools.

Now Biggers must decide whether to accept that plan as a means of ending segregation. …