Rust College lands files from Ayers case


Special to the Advocate

Attorney Ben Cole, the executive director of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, agreed to turn over the entire file related to the landmark 1975 Ayers higher education desegregation lawsuit to Rust College. 

North Mississippi Rural Legal Service was involved in the Ayers case for 20 years, from 1975–1995. 

“That is the case file that they are turning over to the Rust archives,” said Dr. David Beckley, Rust president. “The case file will now be housed permanently in the Leontyne Price Library, and used by researchers, scholars, and the community.” 

The remaining files are dispersed among various attorneys and with the court. “We disassociated with the case after 1995 because federal regulations prohibited Legal Services to be involved in class action litigation,” Cole said. 

Litigation was completed by four different private attorneys and two organizations. “There are various files among those six entities,” said Cole, a 1969 Rust graduate and Marshall County native.  

“As much as we possibly can, we plan to pursue those that we know, and those that we do not know to eventually complete the file here so that people doing research on the Ayers case can do so in one place,” said Beckley. “We appreciate attorney Cole and North Mississippi Rural Legal Service in selecting the Rust College Library as part of this important piece of history, particularly as it affects higher education in the state of Mississippi.”

“I thought it would be an appropriate place, especially since the case was litigated and filed in North Mississippi,” said Cole, who earned his law degree from Drake University in Des Monies, Iowa. “Many will argue that this is one of the most important cases to affect higher education in Mississippi, and even the nation as it has nationally implications.” 

Cole said the Ayers case, filed by the late Jake Ayers, Sr. on behalf of his son, is one of the longest running cases. Cole said NMRLS has been in existence for 40 years, and half of that time was spent working on the case. “The settlement alone for the attorney fees for the plaintiffs was well over $2.5 million, and that was a negotiated settlement. The amount spent to litigate the case was much, much more,” said Cole. 

“The case brought about new educational programs added to most of the minority institutions — the predominately black colleges. It enhanced existing programs, facilities and the endowment fund at those institutions,” Cole said.