Kathy Sykes Credit: Gil Ford Photography

Former state legislator Kathy Sykes and Alvin Chambliss, a civil rights attorney who litigated the historic Ayers v. Fordice case, will lead a march this Saturday, Aug. 14, to protest Mississippi’s treatment of its three public historically Black colleges and universities. 

Under the coalition “March to Save HBCUs,” Sykes and Chambliss want to hold the Institutions of Higher Learning accountable for what they say is a broken promise two decades in the making. 

“Since the Ayers v. Fordice settlement, the state of Mississippi has reneged on its obligation and promise to endow and fund the HBCUs in the ‘Magnolia State,’” a press release reads. 

In 2002, the Institutions of Higher Learning, which oversees Mississippi’s eight public universities, settled Ayers, a class-action lawsuit that alleged the IHL board violated the Fourteenth Amendment by not providing adequate funds to the state’s HBCUs. 

Per the terms of the settlement agreement, the IHL board was supposed to raise $35 million for a private endowment for the HBCUs by 2009. 

Nearly 20 years after the suit was settled, the board has raised just $1 million. 

“I’ve been in this fight a long time,” Chambliss said on a July Zoom call, the Mississippi Link reported.  “They refuse to enforce the Brown v. Board of Education decision. They refuse to enforce the Ayers v. Fordice decision. … There are still policies that are harmful to Black students.” 

Chambliss added that he believes the IHL’s current treatment of Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University is in violation of the Constitution. 

“These institutions are needed now more than ever,” Sykes said, according to the Link. “Higher education opens the door to a better way of life for Black people.”

The march will begin at 9 a.m. at the Masonic Temple on J.R. Lynch Street, stop at the Mississippi State Capitol, and end at Smith Park in downtown Jackson.

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Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.