Alumni, students, and advocates for historically black colleges and universities marched to the state Capitol from the Mississippi State Fairgrounds today to recognize the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and to protest Gov. Haley Barbour's recent proposal to merge Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University with Jackson State University.
Barbour proposed a merger of the historically black colleges with Jackson State University late last year as a cost-cutting measure to counter huge revenue shortfalls. The state faces nearly $400 million in revenue shortfalls at the beginning of the next fiscal year. The governor released a budget plan that would ultimately cut more than $411 million out of the state's $5 billion budget for the next fiscal year, when combined with cuts he already made late last year. He continues searching for other means to trim state government.
At the rally, HBCU advocates demanded that Barbour remove the HBCU merger from the table. "We are here to serve notice to Haley Barbour," said rally organizer Othor Cain, who helped the Mississippi NAACP coordinate the march.
"How dare you. How dare you fix your mouth to talk about a merger of our historically black colleges and universities? This is a smokescreen, and we want you to now that today during the legislative session we are watching you," Cain said.
Cain pointed out that Barbour and legislators recently approved $35 million in incentives to coax a German pipe manufacturer to build a factory in the state, and accused the governor of leaving the job half done.
"My question to the legislators and the governor is where would you get your work force from for this new plant? Will you go outside of the state, or depend on the citizens of the state to provide an educated work force? If you want that work force to come from Mississippi, then why on God's earth would you make any education hard to access?" Cain said.
Jackson State University senior Richetta Wilson warned that merging the schools would put an end to many family legacies.
"We've got students whose family goes back generations at these schools. Your parents went there, and you're encouraged to go there too," Wilson said. "This goes back for many years. How can you destroy something like that?"
Her companion, JSU student Jelicia McClinton, said she believed Barbour has a bigger plan.
"This is an easy way to begin a merger that will end with HBCUs merging under Ole Miss. First you put all the black schools under one roof, and then you put that roof under something like Ole Miss," McClinton said. "You can let our governor know that this merger is not going to happen."