JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Lillie B. Ayers, who became the lead plaintiff in Mississippi’s college desegregation lawsuit after the death of her husband, has died at her home in Glen Allan. She was 85. Henry Ayers, Lillie Ayers’ son, said his mother died early Sunday at her home in Glen Allan in Washington County. He says she died of complications from bone cancer. Funeral services are pending.
Jake Ayers Sr. died in 1986, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Mississippi hadn’t done enough to eliminate segregation at its universities.
Ayers filed the lawsuit against the state’s university system in 1975.
It cited inequitable funding for the state’s three predominantly black universities, Jackson State, Alcorn State in Lorman and Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena.
A settlement was finally approved in 2004 when appeals were exhausted.
Lillie Ayers had initially tried to opt out of the settlement. but her efforts were denied by the courts.
She told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview that the settlement “doesn’t address the intent of my husband’s lawsuit.”
“It’s not about money,” she said. “It’s about equality.”
In 2004, she told The AP that the settlement would be beneficial.
“The schools did get some money. We didn’t get 100 percent of what we asked for but we got something, so it wasn’t a total loss,” she said.
Henry Ayers said Monday that while his mother did not initially embrace the settlement she “came to the point where she was satisfied.”
“She was always concerned about what was going on in the college community. She saw Mississippi Valley State as something for black kids who couldn’t afford to go to Ole Miss or Mississippi State and who didn’t have the education background from small school to go right into a big university.
“She also thought the College Board was more interested in closing Mississippi Valley State,” Henry Ayers said.
Henry Ayers described his mother as “an independent women who loved her children, loved her husband and loved her freedom.”
“She was a person who would stand up for what she knew was right and would seek a solution to the problem. She was a strong lady with dignity who never wanted to be a burden to anyone,” he said.
Survivors include eight sons and a daughter and several grandchildren.
*Pictured above is Lillie B. Ayers.