An open letter to JSU alumni and supporters

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June 15, 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are taking this opportunity to address you because of the apparent intention of state political and higher education officials to have Jackson State University removed from Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. They would like to do it in such a way that it will give the appearance that the JSU community is giving its blessing to the effort, that JSU is being done a favor. An understanding of the facts, however, will reveal the hollowness of the scheme as well as their long-term desire for such a removal.

Listed below are the facts. With the facts in hand, talk with President Thomas Hudson, Black political and community leaders, higher education officials, and any others who can affect the desired outcome.

The stadium was built by the county in 1950 and came under state control in 1960. It was expanded in order to accommodate football games between Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi. There was even legislation on the books that required funds from those universities to retire the bond indebtedness incurred to expand the facility. (Jackson State University, at the time, was playing its football games on its campus in Alumni Field. The first time that JSU was permitted to play in what is now Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium was October 1967 against Grambling State University.)

In 1975, as a part of the Ayers litigation, Black plaintiffs asked that Jackson State University be given control and ownership of the stadium since the stadium was located in Jackson, since JSU by that time had no stadium of its own, and since by then it played more games in the stadium than all of the other state universities combined. The state refused to accede, even though by that time JSU was generating the money necessary to retire the bond which had previously been assigned to Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi.

By 1990, as the Ayers lawyers continued to press for JSU ownership of the stadium, apparently because of pressure from the college board, JSU President James Lyons indicated that JSU’s budget was not sufficient to maintain the stadium grounds and he, therefore, was not requesting the stadium. This was the first opportunity for the state to provide JSU with a stadium following the demolition of Alumni Field. The state, nevertheless, continued to receive virtually all of its stadium revenue from JSU games.

When the Ayers Case was settled in 2004, the state’s lawyers put a phrase in the agreement indicating that Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium would be recognized as “The Home of the JSU Tigers” and that appropriate signage would be erected thereon. That was merely a ruse to deceive the public and the JSU community. The state continued to not only own but financially benefit from the arrangement. That phrase in the agreement helped to sell the agreement. It was the second opportunity for the state’s white leaders to provide a stadium for JSU. Instead, it engaged in such deception until many JSU fans as late as last year thought that the stadium belonged to JSU.

During the tenure of Governor Haley Barbour, white officials had hoped that the federal government would provide grant money enabling the University of Mississippi Medical Center to expand from its present location to the Medical Mall. Had that occurred, the state was planning to tear down the stadium, which was another reason why it had refused to transfer the stadium to JSU. Since the anticipated grant money never came from the federal government, the stadium was spared and instead JSU was granted a bit more representation on the commission that oversaw it. Some writers thought that in this 2011 move JSU became the manager and operator of the stadium. That, however, was not the case and the state department of administration and finance continued to be its true administrator. The state continued to be its owner.

During her tenure as president, Dr. Carolyn Meyers proposed the building of a 50,000-capacity domed stadium near the campus of JSU. State leaders, including the college board, never warmed-up to the idea. As far as they were concerned, a stadium in the neighborhood of 20,000 to 35,000 would be sufficient given JSU’s drop in attendance at football games. This was a third opportunity for the state to see that JSU would get a stadium. Instead, white leaders began openly criticizing the domed stadium idea and it died by the time Meyers resigned as president.

We are thus at the point of saying that we have seen this movie before; that racial politics are preventing the serious consideration of providing JSU with a suitable and worthwhile stadium. There is no bonanza in the offing at this time, despite how leaders try to make things sound.

If the state wants to convincingly demonstrate its sincerity, there are several options that are clearly available. The state should:

  1. publicly commit to building JSU a stadium that is equivalent to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium;
  2. publicly commit to building JSU a domed stadium that has a capacity of at least 40,000;
  3. grant full ownership of Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium to JSU so that if forced into that position, it can sell the stadium to the highest bidder and use the money to build another stadium; or
  4. properly renovate Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium for JSU and allow it to remain as a jewel in this community, just as are stadiums in other urban areas.

 

The fear of many people who are familiar with the racist nature of Mississippi is that Institutions of Higher Learning officials will put enough pressure on President Thomas Hudson, Athletic Director Ashley Robinson, and other JSU employees to cause them to settle for something far less than what is just and fair. That would definitely fit the historical pattern, but would be a tragedy. The options above are what can and should be presented to the higher education officials rather than have JSU officials being backed into some other inferior option.

JSU and its fans have more than paid for the stadium over the last 50 years. All they have to show for it is signage proclaiming something that had already in fact been the case, as they paid the rent. That is a gross injustice.

The challenge now is for Black leaders, Black organizations, civil rights groups, and JSU alumni groups to step up to the plate and demand that the outcome of this matter be fair and just. Unless Black leaders display the necessary knowledge and courage on the stadium issue, not only will this be an abandonment of the implication embedded in the Ayers settlement document, it will be another green light for conservative white leaders to go right ahead and paint the rest of Mississippi’s history “racist” and its Black population as “chumps,” who can be had whenever they desire.

Yours truly,
Ivory Phillips