S. E. Williams

Contributor

Civil Rights Attorney Lewis Myers Jr. passed away in a rehabilitation center in Chicago last Thursday at the age of 70 due to complications from surgery.

In the mid-1970’s Lewis led a major lawsuit against racial discrimination in higher education against  what was one of the country’s most overtly racist states, Mississippi.

Jake Ayers Sr. filed the lawsuit against the state’s university system in 1975. He claimed the funding provided to the state’s three predominantly black universities was inequitable. Those institutions of higher learning included Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State.

Ayers passed away in 1992, before the case was resolved. Six years later in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Mississippi had not done enough to eliminate segregation at its universities. Despite the ruling however, the case lingered on until it was settled for good in 2004, when the appeals process finally ran its course. The schools were awarded a financial settlement of $503 million.

In 2005, the state of Mississippi began making payments on this settlement to Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities.

Myers managed his own Chicago-based law firm and over the years, worked with a number of high profile individuals and organizations in the African American community including Louis Farrakhan, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and other notable leaders and groups.

He also served as the National Deputy Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer for the NAACP between 1993 and 1994.

According to the NAACP, Myers tried hundreds of cases in jurisdictions across the nation. He was a member of the Illinois Bar, the Bar of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Bar of the Federal Appellate Court for the Third Circuit, the Bar for the Federal Appellate Court for the Fifth Circuit, the Bar of the United States Federal District Court for the Northern District of California, and the Bar for the Federal Court of Claims.

In an official statement on Myer’s passing, Leon W. Russell, NAACP National Board Chairman said, “Lewis Myers Jr. was committed to the work of civil and human rights. The NAACP extends our sincere condolences to his family and sends prayers of comfort and strength for the days to come.”

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson also honored Myers and his contributions and referred to him as “… a true advocate for the people, whether as counsel with North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, or as NAACP Deputy Director, he was a powerful force for progress. His work and legal representation of Rev. Jesse Jackson and so many others across the country, served as a model for many. He was truly a progressive voice in the legal and civil rights community.”