ATLANTA -- The Georgia NAACP has sued the state, claiming it has systematically underfunded its three public black colleges and threatened their survival as a result.
Gov. Sonny Perdue and Board of Regents Chancellor Errol Davis are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court. Two students at Savannah State University and Fort Valley State University joined the NAACP as plaintiffs.
Attorney John Clark said the alumni associations of Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Savannah State University support the legal action.
"Whether there's money or no money, we get the same answer," Clark said. "The time is now to address inequities that have persisted. It is never too late to have redress."
The Legal Defense Coalition for the Preservation of Public HBCUs, which is also supporting the lawsuit, published a 2008 report claiming the state violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment in its treatment of the three colleges.
Many of the reports findings are the basis for the lawsuit.
According to the report, a lack of state funding has for decades hobbled the institutions and kept them from establishing professional programs on par with their mainstream counterparts in Georgia. As a result of systematic discrimination by the Board of Regents, the state's public black colleges have had second-class status and operated under de facto segregation.
Georgia State NAACP Chapter President Edward DuBose said the issue was not race, but fairness.
"We refuse to allow the demise of our historically black colleges," DuBose said, adding that that National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Washington also supports the lawsuit. "These colleges have been around for a long time."
Calls to the universities seeking comment on the lawsuit were not immediately returned Friday. Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps said his office had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
The coalition report also said none of Georgia's state black colleges are classified as research universities or offer professional degree programs and there is a disparity in funding for capital improvement projects at these colleges. The coalition is a non-profit organization incorporated in 2007 made up of alumni and supporters of Georgia's public black colleges.
Last year, supporters of the three schools balked at a Senate proposal to merge Savannah State and Albany State with two nearby majority white institutions as a cost-cutting measure. Sen. Seth Harp told the Georgia Alumni Association of Black State Universities that such a move could make the black colleges monopolies in their communities.
The university system chancellor was also opposed to the idea, which did not materialize.