By Stephanie R. Jones
Isaiah Madison’s name might not be one that readily comes to mind but his impact on higher education in Mississippi is as remarkable as the red clay soil that covers the state.
The late Rev. Dr. Madison was among attorneys who spent years working on the Ayers lawsuit against the state to gain better funding for historically black universities in the state.
A symposium Tuesday at COFO on the Jackson State University campus shed light on his efforts in the case and the impact it has had on higher education at majority black institutions.
The Fannie Lou Hamer Institute @ COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) along with Institute for Social Justice and Race Relations, the College of Liberal Arts, The College of Education and Human Development and the Department of Political Science at Jackson State University honored the memory and work of Madison, who used his legal training to attack issues of injustice and oppression in this country and beyond.
The day started with two panel discussions in the afternoon, the first including Dr. Rickey Hill, chair and professor of the Department of Political Science at JSU; Louis Armstrong, deputy director of Human and Cultural Services in Jackson; historian Robert M. Walker, Dr. Robert E. Young, retired Mississippi Valley State University professor; Dr. Cindy Ayers-Elliott, CEO of Foot Print Farms; Dr. Hilliard L. Lackey III, associate professor of urban higher education/history/geography; and Dr. Rodney Washington, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education at JSU .
Tuesday evening’s event featured as speaker Dr. Mary D. Coleman, COO of the Crittenton Women’s Union, an anti-poverty organization based in Boston Mass., and former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Lesley University.
Coleman, who has researched and documented Madison’s role in the case, called Madison a leader. After some other JSU graduates signed on to the Ayers case, notably U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, Madison read over and over the case and joined in. “He threw everything he could at the state to see what would stick,” Coleman said. “The state was only interested in furthering the interest of Ole Miss and Mississippi State.”
Madison, she said, was interested in ridding the state’s universities of de jure segregation and getting all to be gotten for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Coleman spoke of Madison as a person of conviction.
“To know Isaiah was to know someone who really had self-belief,” she said. “He was that little boy who was emblematic of the little boys and girls who said ‘this isn’t right’ and wouldn’t accept a bone” to go away from his belief, she said.
She talked of what Jackson State achieved as a result of the settlement in the case. In the settlement, she said the understanding was that HBCUs would walk away with something and something would be left on the table. The question was, she said, what the state should pay for years of discrimination against the black schools.
Madison’s wife, Carol Ann Madison, said she was grateful for the program honoring her husband’s contributions. “It brought tears to my eyes,” she said, adding that the panelists shared much wisdom about how the case started and her husband’s role in it.
“He was humble and didn’t toot his own horn. There was a lot of sacrifice but he didn’t talk about that,” she said. “This day has been wonderful.”
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at email@example.com or (601) 454-0372.