Gov. Haley Barbour’s plan to merge Mississippi’s three historically black universities has created a tense atmosphere in a state saddled with a violent civil rights past and a decades-long legal battle over the historic underfunding of those schools.
At Jackson State University, students have turned to Twitter and Facebook to gather signatures on a petition to block the move proposed by the Republican governor. A half-dozen students attended a state College Board meeting Thursday expecting some discussion about the proposal, but there was none.
“I personally believe they undermined the uniqueness of the black colleges and how far we’ve come with the little resources we have,” said Marissa Simms, a 20-year-old JSU student.
Many of the nation’s public historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs, were founded more than a century ago. Mississippi’s own Alcorn State University in Lorman was the country’s first land-grant black college.
The state’s other historically black campus is Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena.
Nationwide, there are 40 four-year public HBCUs, and dozens more two-year colleges and private institutions. White House officials and representatives of national organizations say the colleges play a vital role in an initiative by the Democratic Obama administration.