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Joseph Lowery Pushes Nationwide Support for Ayers Appeal Hearing

Joseph Lowery Pushes Nationwide Support for Ayers Appeal Hearing

By Earnest McBride
 (Oct. 30-Nov. 7, 2003)


©2003. The Jackson Advocate, Jackson, Mississippi. Posted by permission.
Even in retirement, emeritus Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Joseph Lowery continues to lend his voice to causes like those he fought for alongside the late Dr. Martin Luther King and as his successor in SCLC, King's base organization for the Civil Rights movement.
"I am honored to be a participant in this call to action around the landmark case in recent history in higher education for African Americans," Lowery said at a press conference last Monday organized by legislative and community leaders concerned about turning out a massive caravan to rally in New Orleans on November 3, the day of the Ayers hearing. We are here to assure the people of Mississippi---the plaintiffs in the Ayers case and others---that there is national support for this appeal which will take place before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal."
Active support for the Ayers appeal is developing on the traditionally black campuses throughout Mississippi and in some unexpected quarters on both national coasts.
"This is history in the making," says Paula Powell, Vice President of the National Association of African American Students. Powell, the national spokeswoman for the student association, works as the Director of the African American Resource and Cultural Center at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "History is unfolding now.  Although Mr. Ayers is no longer with us, he is still opening doors on campuses all across the nation.  Even where African Americans are in the minority, as we have here in the California system, we have all been the beneficiaries of the efforts made by the Ayers family. And even though Attorney Alvin Chambliss doesn't look upon himself as a hero, he will go down in history as a very significant figure of our times."
On the opposite side of the nation, Howard University doctoral student Dennis Rogers, president of the National Association of African American Students, says his organization is getting the word out through a network of professional and student organizations to return to New Orleans for the November 3 hearings. Rogers said that he met with a large number of black professionals in New Orleans earlier this summer.
"We fully support Attorney Chambliss," Rogers says. "Higher education for African Americans is crucial to our nation. How can moral, educational and political leadership of the world be developed if we don't invest in equity and educational opportunity for all Americans?
"The issue goes far beyond any one state," Lowery said. "It is a matter of national conscience that America needs to decide that, while it is sending $87 billion and more to Iraq that it ought to complete the job of undoing the wrong done generations of African Americans in this country, who still have not received adequate education to fulfill the promise of this country."
The issue is not whether Ayers settlement was just, Lowery says. "The issue is whether Mississippi has fulfilled its obligation to educate black citizens as it educated white citizens and whether it will provide graduate and professional programs to those other than the ten percent who want to study now.
"It is a matter of national conscience and it is one of completing the unfulfilled task of providing equal justice under the law and equal and adequate educational opportunity.
"We urge people from all across the nation to meet us in New Orleans at High Noon on November 3 in New Orleans.
Congressman Bennie Thompson has taken a lot of flak for his role in accepting the $503 million settlement for Mississippi's three black colleges imposed by Federal Judge Neal Biggers. It is this settlement that is being appealed by the Ayers plaintiffs who refused to go along with what was called a "final offer" by the state.
"I've done the best deal I could," said Thompson, who was one of the original plaintiffs in the 1975 lawsuit that was spearheaded by the late Jake Ayers "If the appellants can get more than the $503 million, then I would be happy. But at the time that we called for support of the settlement, Judge Biggers had warned us that he was ready to close out the case without attaching any money as a part of the agreement."
Thompson also says that the proposed settlement was open for public response for more than a year, but none of the current appeals plaintiffs raised any questions about it before the court when it would have counted.
"Judge Biggers said that if we had not worked out a political settlement, as we did," Thompson says, "that it would not have cost the state of Mississippi one penny."
Jackson Branch NAACP President Ineva Pittman says she testified before Biggers and told him she was appalled at the proposed settlement and the way in which it was secured. The NAACP had not signed on to the agreement as the new attorneys claimed, she says.
"I think they were manipulated," Pittman says. "But we're still in the fight. And we didn't come this far without some hope. So win, lose or draw, we have to keep on. We have an obligation to provide for our children the best education possible "
Jackson City Councilman Kenneth Stokes promises to supply two busloads to attend the rally and appeals hearing in New Orleans. He has issued a call for at least 10 buses from the greater Jackson area. Other educational and population centers have also witnessed a growing amount of interest in participating in the rally for Ayers.
State Representative Eric Fleming pointed out that the state of Texas has provided $3.5 billion to one of its historically black colleges to make amends for past shortcomings.  Mississippi, in contrast, provided only half a billion ($$503 million) for all three of its black colleges.
Alcorn State University has a large support group among its faculty, says Alex D. W. Acholonu, professor of Biology and ASU Faculty Senate president. But funds for travel and other means of support are being held up by the vice president for business affairs at the University, says Acholonu.
"The local and national media have not done much that is helpful to the Ayers plaintiffs," Acholonu says. "We need to rapidly build coalitions with the NAACP, SCLC, Southern Echo, black college student associations and black legislative caucuses.
"The Ayers case has importance and implications not just for Alcorn State University, Jackson State and Valley State in Mississippi," he says. "It is of significant import for the education of African Americans everywhere. The failure to provide the kind of funding, program initiatives, attractive salaries and academic opportunities for present and future generations would mean the arrested development of the black community professionally, economically, academically, and politically.
"This is truly a struggle that warrants the support of all for the benefit of all."
Alcorn student body President Raqueyya Forbes of Jackson is working with Acholonu and other organizations on the campus to marshal an impressive contingency of sojourners to  the New Orleans hearing. Other activities are being planned for the Norman campus, she said.
Plans for transportation of community participants to the Ayers appeal and rally in New Orleans are being developed. Schedules and activities will be published in next week's Jackson Advocate.

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