US Judge Biggers, who ruled on funding for Black universities in Mississippi, dies at 88

Oct 25, 2023, 10:47 AM

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Funeral services were being held Wednesday for longtime U.S. District Judge Neal Brooks Biggers Jr. of Mississippi, who issued significant rulings about prayer in public schools and funding of historically Black universities.

Biggers died Oct. 15 at his home in Oxford. He was 88.

Services were being held in Corinth, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Biggers was a Corinth native and served in the Navy before earning his law degree. He was elected as prosecuting attorney in Alcorn County, where Corinth is located; and as district attorney for part of northeast Mississippi. He was later elected as a state circuit judge.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan nominated Biggers to serve as a federal judge for the Northern District of Mississippi.

Two of the biggest cases Biggers handled as a federal judge involved racial disparities in state university funding and prayer in school.

In the 1970s racial disparities case, Black plaintiffs argued that Mississippi was maintaining a dual and unequal system of higher education with predominantly white universities receiving more money than historically Black ones. In 2002, Biggers ordered the state to put an additional $503 million over several years into the three historically Black universities — Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State.

In the 1990s, a mom sued her children’s school district in Pontotoc County, where prayers and Christian devotionals were said over the intercom. Biggers ruled in 1996 that the practices violated the Constitution’s prohibition on government establishment of religion.

Biggers served as chief judge for the Northern District of Mississippi for two years before he took senior status in 2000. He remained a senior district judge until his death.

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US Judge Biggers, who ruled on funding for Black universities in Mississippi, dies at 88