Asheville – In October 2021, WNC Citizens for Equality, Inc. filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Asheville. Citizens formed the corporation to challenge the City of Asheville’s funding of a student scholarship program that they claim violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The group, which alleged the program was discriminatory again students based on race, was successful in their suit.
Last week, Judicial Watch, handling the suit for Citizens for Equality, announced the City of Asheville settled the federal civil rights lawsuit after agreeing to remove all racially discriminatory provisions in the city-funded scholarship program.
The Tribune first broke this story back in October when the suit was initially filed against the city. Citizens for Equality was started by former Asheville City Council Member Carl Mumpower, former Asheville City Risk Manager John Miall, Jr. and Atty. Ruth C. Smith, who acted as the group’s legal counsel. Also listed as co-plaintiffs were three high school students, who, as minors, were not named.
“The students’ rights have been violated, the suit stated, because they are white and therefore excluded from applying for scholarship money and thus are deprived of their Fourteenth Amendment rights,” reported the Tribune.
“Additionally, the city also agreed to remove racially discriminatory eligibility provisions in a related program that provides grants to educators,” said a press release by Judicial Watch. “The City Council approved the settlement on January 11.”
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina on behalf of the citizens’ group whose members include high school students who “were ineligible for a scholarship program only because they are not Black.”
The case stemmed from the City of Asheville entering into an agreement with the Asheville City Schools Foundation on May 5, 2021, “to establish and administer the City of Asheville Scholarship Fund.” According to the agreement, the City of Asheville Scholarship is “awarded in perpetuity to Black high school students within Asheville City Schools, with special consideration given for Black students pursuing a career in education.”
In July 2020, Asheville’s City Council unanimously approved what it called a ‘reparations initiative,’ that provided “funding to programs geared toward increasing homeownership and business and career opportunities for Black residents,” stated the release.
The lawsuit was settled on January 11 when Asheville’s City Council passed a resolution under its consent agenda where the board withdrew the racial standards for the scholarship. “[T]he scholarship will give preference to applicants whose household members, including parents and/or guardians, have a high school education or less, these applicants representing ‘first generation’ college students,” stated the release. The board made no admission of wrongdoing during the council meeting.
The council also removed racially discriminatory wording for a scholarship program for educators and staff of Asheville City Schools. The release added, “the scholarship agreements were also amended to prohibit discrimination based on race and other categories.
“Our clients, a group of Asheville residents, including high school students, courageously challenged this blatantly discriminatory and illegal scholarship program in federal court. Thankfully, the City of Asheville did the right thing in quickly ending these indefensible race-based scholarship programs,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in the release. “This federal lawsuit and the resulting remarkable settlement should serve as a wake-up call to those activists and allied politicians pushing the extremist leftist agenda to segregate and discriminate based on race.”
The only preference in the agreement with Asheville City Schools Foundation is that the scholarships go first to “first-generation” college students. The agreement also was amended to prohibit any awarding of scholarships based on race. Same for scholarships awarded to educators.
Mumpower Response to Settlement of Lawsuit
In an interview with the Tribune, Mumpower commented on the legal victory. “As we know from past behavior, the city has a history of arrogance on their policies and positions. This is one of those times they let passion out rule wisdom in guiding them, and they got caught. It didn’t take three or four days for them to realize they got caught,” said Mumpower. He told the Tribune that within a week of filing the lawsuit in federal court and a judge being assigned, the city started to negotiate with the group.
“They basically negotiated a surrender document,” Mumpower said, “They were just clearly on slippery turf and it didn’t take them long to figure it out. I find it ironic, they snuck their resolution, their surrender document, I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just what it is. They snuck it into the consent agenda where it was highly unlikely to be noticed or addressed…and it wasn’t. So there was no public address or comment. And immediately, even in that resolution started talking about they hadn’t done anything wrong.” “When you got big buckets of money or control in the community, your true character gets revealed,” he added.
Editor’s Note: Roger McCredie contributed to this report.