Civil Rights

Jackson water: The mystery of what’s next


The mystery of what’s next for Jackson’s water system

As Jacksonians prepare for the winter, and the ominous possibility of another water system failure, they’re also coping with the looming uncertainty of how their drinking water will be managed in the years to come. 

“I really don’t know what to expect,” said Kathy Sykes, a lifelong Jackson resident and former lawmaker, about the future of the water system. “Problems with our water system are going to be magnified once the cold weather sets in.”

On Monday, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the system remains vulnerable to the winter weather, which last year froze equipment at the city’s main treatment plant and shut off drinking water for thousands of residents for over a month. The cold weather led to a citywide boil water notice in 2018 because of bursting pipes, and caused similar issues in 2014 and 2010 as well. 

For now, the federal government is leading discussions over the long-term plan for the water system, with the Department of Justice negotiating a settlement with Jackson’s lawyers over the city’s drinking water violations. Yet the status of those talks and what potential outcomes they might yield are hidden from the public because of a confidentiality agreement between the two parties. 

Similarly, Jackson has a “very-detailed” spending plan the city has shared with the Environmental Protection Agency, but which it can’t share with the public because of a different confidentiality agreement, city officials said

In the meantime, Sykes and others continue to see abrupt interruptions to their water connections. Since Sept. 15, when the state lifted the last citywide boil water notice, Jackson has issued 30 boil water notices, more than one every other day, to over 2,200 customers because of breaks in the aging distribution system, ranging from a day to nearly a week in duration.  

Jackson recently announced it’s seeking a contractor to manage its water facilities for the next year, which the mayor said he expects to begin Nov. 17, pending city council approval. The governor’s state of emergency is set to end just after on Nov. 22, which would mark the state’s takeover of Jackson’s water operations at nearly three months.

But other than that, there is little foresight for the city’s residents over the future control of their water system. Adding to the uncertainty, Gov. Tate Reeves has expressed growing distrust in Jackson’s ability to manage the system on its own.

Reeves argued recently that the August crisis was a result of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s “absolute and total incompetence,” and said that it’s “not that difficult” to a drinking water system. 

In a September press conference, the governor said that “there is a need” for state lawmakers to “take action” on a long-term solution, and later cast doubt over whether Jackson would operate its own water system “anytime soon, if ever again.” To date, however, Reeves has not pushed for a specific outcome. 

The city’s failures appear in virtually every corner of the drinking water system: operators are underpaid, leaving staffing shortages; miles of undersized water lines need replacing; and equipment at the two treatment plants haven’t been maintained or are so old they can’t be fixed. 

The city has for years planned to decommission one of the plants, the century-old J.H. Fewell, but now can’t because of shortcomings at the 30-year-old O.B. Curtis, which also may need replacing, according to the mayor.

Meanwhile, Jackson city council members have met with Reeves and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann to discuss possible solutions, council president Ashby Foote said. Foote told Mississippi Today that Hosemann proposed creating a “utility district” for Jackson that would be governed by a board, similar to what rural water authorities use. 

Hosemann’s office confirmed he has met with stakeholders, but declined an interview for further details. 

Publicly, Lumumba has yet to entertain any long-term solution aside from sending the city more money. For years, the state government has built barriers to Jackson’s ability to raise money, as the NAACP argues in a Act complaint that the EPA has agreed to investigate. Reeves disputed some of those allegations in a letter to Congress

Jackson’s water issues also parallel a decline in the federal government’s share of local water spending, which plummeted from 31% in 1977 to 7% in 2017, according to congressional budget data. 

In that time, the city’s ability to replace federal spending only grew worse, as its population decreased 26% since 1980, and a failed water meter contract with Siemens led to a 31% decrease in water and sewer revenue from 2014 to 2020, city budget records show. 

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But the path to rehabilitation requires more than just money, water system experts and local officials agree.

“Pouring more money into a failing institution does not fix that institution,” said Manuel Teodoro, a public policy scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teodoro has helped consult water utilities since the 1990s, and served on expert advisory panels for local and state governments, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. 

Jackson, Teodoro explained, is unique only in the degree of its infrastructure failure, but the circumstances the city is facing are “depressingly ordinary” around the United States. 

Part of the issue, he said, is there are “way too many” water and sewer utilities around the country. Teodoro – as well as other water policy experts – is a proponent of regionalization, citing the theory that creating “economies of scale,” or pooling resources together, saves every city and suburb money in the long run. 

Regionalizing can take different forms, whether it’s combining physical infrastructure or combining operations staff. 

“Anyway you slice it, bigger is better,” Teodoro said. “There’s no question, in my mind, that Jackson, just like anywhere else in the country, would be better off with a larger organization running the utilities for the region.”

Cleveland, Ohio, for instance, is a 48% Black city of 368,000, and is part of a regional authority that serves drinking water to 1.3 million people including the city’s suburbs. Cleveland, like Jackson, has seen financial issues amid population loss over the years, but has had relatively few issues with its drinking water, Teodoro said. 

Opponents of regionalizing look at Detroit as a cautionary tale: as part of the city’s bankruptcy deal in 2014, a court forced the city into a regional water authority, GLWA. While the authority pays the city to lease its water facilities, researchers from University of California Berkeley found that GLWA actually underpays Detroit, and in recent years it aggressively shut off water connections for residents in debt. 

Jackson residents and supporters hold signs as they march to the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss. to protest the ongoing water issues in the city on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.

Without a push from the state or federal government, Jackson and its neighbors appear unwilling to join forces, Mississippi Today reported in September. 

Regionalization, another expert said, can surface trust issues between communities, especially where there’s a history of racism or marginalization. 

“Whether communities want to cooperate or want to cede decision-making power over their drinking water to a community that they see as not having their best interest in mind, that can be tough,” said Sara Hughes, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who studies water management. “Even if it technically makes a lot of sense or is what looks best on the spreadsheet, I think that can be a big ask for communities sometimes.” 

Jackson losing control is part of why Lumumba is wary of a regional authority, and it’s also why he’s repeatedly shut down the idea of privatization, a model that serves drinking water to 15% of Americans. 

Opponents to privatization usually point to increased costs, which is an accurate assessment, Teodoro said, but one that only paints part of the picture. 

“It turns out you get what you pay for,” he said. “And what you have in the case of investor-owned (or private) systems is higher prices, but consistently higher quality.”

If a private company bought Jackson’s water system, the PSC would regulate any rate increases the company proposes, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley confirmed. 

The costs and benefits of a privatized system comes down to incentives, Teodoro explained. Because they’re investing in the infrastructure – and because they can profit from making upgrades, as a 2017 Washington Post story explored – private companies are quicker to raise rates to fund needed improvements.

The Washington Post story also found, though, that cities dissatisfied with a private company’s service have difficulty trying to buy back their systems because of the high price tag. 

Open fire hydrant flushing water though the system at the corner of Mitchell Avenue and North State Street in Jackson, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.

But regardless of who owns it, a city’s water system is expensive, and whoever runs it will have to be willing to raise rates on residents’ water bills, Teodoro said.  

“People are going to pay for (water systems) with their taxes, or they’re going to pay for them with their health,” he said.

While Jackson raised water and sewer rates by 20% last December, it was the first rate hike since 2013, WLBT reported, and also a lower increase than what the city’s consultants recommended.  

City officials, who have to spend money and run for elections on issues other than just water, have historically lacked incentive to raise people’s water rates until a catastrophe hits, Teodoro explained.

“That’s not because Jackson’s past leaders were stupid or evil, they were making rational decisions,” he said. “That has nothing to do with the politics of Jackson. That has everything to do with the politics of every local government in the United States.”

While Lumumba has shut down alternatives to the city continuing to operate its water system the way it has for years, some of Jackson’s city council are hoping for a change. 

Councilman Kenneth Stokes called for the state to take over Jackson’s water system, and said if the state doesn’t do it, then the federal government should take control instead. Stokes added that he would also support privatizing the system. 

“We got to make sure that we put citizens first,” he said. “All this, ‘This is my territory, this is mine,’ that’s nonsense when you got children drinking contaminated water.”

Salvation Army workers distribute bottled water at in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, August 31, 2022.

Councilman Vernon Hartley, whose ward in west Jackson regularly feels the brunt of water pressure issues, said that while he wants the city to retain primary control, he would support regionalization. A regional authority, he reasoned, would mean more money and more political influence.

“It’s apparent to me that the way we’ve been doing things is not right,” Hartley said. “We’re going to pressure the federal government into giving (Jackson) more money, and which it needs to (do). But without proper management of that money, we’re going to end up in the same place.” 

Recognizing the obstacles to regionalization, Teodoro mentioned certain measures – such as Jackson paying more to join because of its financial baggage, or the federal government subsidizing suburbs such as Byram and Clinton – to create incentives for regionalization. But one incentive, he said, should already exist: pride.     

“It should be shameful to the people of Mississippi to have that degree of infrastructure failure in your state capital,” Teodoro said. “So, if for no other reason, then I would think state pride would make folks want to participate in regional solutions, sustainable solutions for Jackson’s water.” 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Mississippi to commemorate life of slain civil rights veteran


Mississippi to commemorate life of slain civil rights veteran

World War I veteran Lamar Smith knew the risk of registering Black residents to vote and encouraging them to exercise that right. His work led to his fatal shooting in 1955 on the lawn of the Brookhaven courthouse by three men who were never prosecuted for the

Nearly 70 years after his 1955 slaying, a historical marker will commemorate the Black farmer’s civil rights work and life at the site of his . The Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History approved the marker at its Friday meeting. 

“The board approved a group of markers, including one for Mr. Lamar Smith recounting his story,” said Katie Blount, director of MDAH. 

She said the historical marker program is one of the department’s most popular and a way for people to get involved with history in a grassroots way. 

Family members of Smith have supported the placement of a historical marker at the courthouse in his honor. 

Some have wanted officials to go further. Several family members have gone before the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors multiple times to ask for the courthouse to be renamed in Smith’s honor, but the board has not done that, the Daily Leader reported.

“Any time we talk about [this], the pain comes up like it was yesterday,” said Alma Pittman, Smith’s step-granddaughter, at an April board meeting. “I saw my grandmother suffer. She never got over it. It would be nice to have recognition of my grandfather’s [sacrifice] by the my grandfather was murdered in.”

Lamar Smith is among the people whose stories are at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama.

On Aug. 13, 1955, 63-year-old Smith went to the Brookhaven courthouse to drop off absentee ballots for a county supervisor runoff election between an incumbent and a challenger he worked for. Three white men approached him outside and shot him in front of at least 50 people, according to FBI documents. 

Noah Smith, Mack Smith and Charles Falvey were arrested for Smith’s death, but they were never tried. Two grand juries were convened and did not take action because witnesses refused to testify, according to FBI documents. 

The FBI reopened Smith’s case in 2008 as part of an initiative for unresolved civil rights era murders. It closed his case in April 2010, saying the three men were dead and unable to be prosecuted.

In its decision to close Smith’s case, the FBI said it did not find a prosecutable violation of federal civil rights statutes and noted there was a five-year statute of limitation on non-capital civil rights violations before 1994. 

The FBI also noted the local coroner’s jury ruled that “probably other parties unknown” were involved with Smith’s death but were never identified. 

Of the 161 civil rights cases the FBI reopened, 53 of them were killings that happened in Mississippi between the 1930s and 1970s. To date, a majority of the cases have been closed. 

One of those cases was that of the Rev. George Lee who was killed in Belzoni months before Smith for registering Black people to vote. Like Smith’s case, the FBI closed Lee’s case because the man accused of shooting him was already dead. 

In interviews for an episode of the 2008 television series “Murder in Black & White,” family members of Smith remembered him as a good man who wanted to help others vote, even when he was told not to. 

“He said he would die for the sake of others,” said Smith’s niece, Jinnie Lee Wallace.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

EPA opens civil rights investigation into state’s role over Jackson water system


EPA opens civil rights investigation into state’s role over Jackson water system

The Environmental Protection Agency wrote in a letter Thursday that it is opening a investigation into the of Mississippi’s role in the of Jackson’s water system.

The letter is in response to a complaint the NAACP filed on Sept. 27 under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint alleges Mississippi has discriminated against the city on the basis of race, and that the state has “deprived” Jackson of federal funds intended for maintaining safe drinking water systems.

Mississippi, which has no Black statewide elected officials, is 38% Black and 59% white. Jackson is 83% Black and 16% white.

The EPA specified in the letter that it will investigate whether the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the discriminated against Jackson in their funding of water programs. It will also investigate whether the two state agencies have safeguards and policies to protect against discrimination as required by Title VI.

“The Mississippi State Department of Health is a regulatory agency that ensures compliance, offers education and guidance, and protects the public health safety of all ,” Liz Sharlot, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said in a statement. “The Agency also works with all eligible public water systems needing funds to improve their plants through the State Revolving Loan Fund. Extensive information can be found on our website.”

MDEQ didn’t respond to requests for comment by the time this story published.

READ MORE: Lumumba, Reeves continue to point fingers as Congress calls for probe of Jackson water spending

The Health Department oversees Mississippi’s drinking water revolving loan fund, a program that lends municipalities federal money to make water infrastructure upgrades. But the agency, NAACP argued in its complaint, has limited the benefits of those loans by capping loan forgiveness at $500,000 and enforcing a stricter repayment period than what Congress allows for.

The letter says that the EPA’s Office of External Civil Rights Compliance (OECRC) will contact MSDH and MDEQ in the next 10 days to explain the investigation and potential resolutions.

The NAACP also requested that the EPA include the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration in the investigation, but the federal agency declined.

Today’s letter comes days after U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney announced their own investigation into the state’s spending, in which they’ve asked Gov. Tate Reeves to provide information on the state’s allotment of recent historic federal infrastructure funding.

Reeves’ office did not yet have a comment on the EPA’s letter when this story published.

Earlier on Thursday, Jackson announced it released its own request for proposals (RFP) for a contractor to operate the city’s water plants, tanks, and well system. On Monday, Reeves accused Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba of withdrawing from the state’s unified effort to fix the Jackson water system because the mayor wouldn’t participate in the state’s contract procurement. Lumumba responded that city should have the final say on the RFP before it’s published.

While the state’s request “accurately reflects the scope of work,” the city said in a statement, Jackson’s request includes “specific terms” from the EPA that weren’t in the state’s request.

READ MORE: Mayor Lumumba says ‘paternalistic, racist’ Legislature failed to help Jackson despite having extra billions

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Poor People’s Campaign to file Fair Housing complaint over Jackson water


Poor People’s Campaign to file Fair Housing complaint over Jackson water

Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. William Barber II announced Monday that his organization would be filing a Fair Housing Act complaint against the of Mississippi for failing to provide clean drinking water to Jackson residents.

Barber announced the at a Monday evening rally in downtown Jackson. In his return to Jackson after hosting another protest in late September, the reverend marched alongside about 100 city residents from the Smith Robertson , walking a half mile or so to a stage set up outside the Governor’s Mansion.

The Rev. William Barber II speaks at a rally about Jackson’s drinking water on Oct. 10, 2022.

“The Fair Housing law says you cannot refuse to give people what they need in their private housing, in their rental housing, or in their federally owned public housing, what they need to have a decent life,” Barber told the crowd on Capitol Street. “And we believe that when you deny people access to clean water, you are violating their fair housing rights.”

Barber cited that the federal law protects against discrimination in housing based on a number of factors, including race. Jackson, the largest city in Mississippi, is 83% Black. The federal government created the law as part of the Act of 1968.

The Poor People’s Campaign also echoed other activists speaking out against the possibility of privatizing Jackson’s drinking water system.

Jackson residents protest on Lamar Street over the city’s drinking water on Oct. 10, 2022.

“Understand that if you privatize the water of Jackson, everything else is up for grabs,” Barber said. “If you privatize the water they’ll take the economic resources.”

Mississippi Today reported in August that state lawmakers had met to consider new options for managing the city’s water system, including privatizing. It’s unclear, however, what the state’s role will be as the federal government steps in. Last week, the Jackson City Council voted to enter a confidentiality agreement with the Department of Justice in discussing a settlement over the water system, WLBT reported.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Critical race theory: Experts say new law doesn’t ban it


State GOP leaders boast banning critical race theory. Experts say they didn’t

Mississippi lawmakers spent more than seven hours in early 2022 debating a bill that they said would ban the teaching of . They passed it after brushing off the emotional objections of every Black lawmaker and the fact that no K-12 classroom taught the academic theory.

On the campaign trail and during recent speaking events, several Republican officials have since boasted their hard work and focus on the issue.

But the recently updated Mississippi Code, the state’s book of laws which reflect bills passed during the 2022 legislative session and will soon be distributed across the state, does not include the term “critical race theory” — or even language banning its teaching, experts say.

The new law’s language reads no university, community college or public school “shall direct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm” that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior or that individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”

Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and others have touted that Senate Bill 2113, passed during the 2022 session, prohibits the teaching of critical race theory. The bill created a new section of law at 37-13-2 in the legal code. A general index for the legal code does say, “Critical race theory, prohibition,” and then cites the code section. But the code section itself does not use the term “critical race theory.”

“This law does not prohibit critical race theory, and courts generally are not looking to the index to interpret a statute,” said Yvette Theresa Butler, a professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law and the only person in the state who focuses an entire class on critical race theory.

READ MORE: Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory

At the Neshoba County Fair earlier this year, Reeves proclaimed to the generally conservative crowd, “Here in Mississippi we are leading the way and we are driving the conservative movement. We have banned critical race theory, and we have banned vaccine mandates.”

In response to questions about critical race theory not being in the code, Cory Custer, the governor’s deputy chief of staff sent a statement: “Mississippi Today has consistently missed the point on this issue. You’ve been so focused on the label ‘critical race theory,’ that you’ve totally failed to understand that the legislation prohibits teaching the core tenets of this radical indoctrination. It’s almost like you have blinders on. Passing legislation that simply states critical race theory is banned isn’t enough.

“This legislation goes beyond labels and targets the discriminatory teaching that is the foundation of critical race theory – that students are inherently superior or inferior because of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.”

But Butler said the language of the controversial law “actually prohibits the exact opposite of what CRT explores. CRT is just another theoretical method that is used to explore the law’s role in perpetuating and remedying inequality.”

“CRT explores the ways the law has been and is still used (even if written in a neutral – non-discriminatory – manner) to perpetuate racial inequality,” Butler said. “Consequently, it is factually inaccurate to say that anyone teaching CRT directs or compels students to adopt a belief that any race (sex, religion, etc.) is inherently superior or inferior.”

Critical race theory has generally been taught as a graduate level class on the university level and is designed to explore the impact of race on various aspects of society. When the bill was being debated earlier this year, state Department of Education officials said no public kindergarten through 12th grade school in the state was offering critical race theory classes.

A critical race theory class will again be offered at the Law School in the 2023 spring semester, Butler said.

Every African American member of the opposed passage of the bill during the 2022 session. In the Senate, all 14 African Americans walked out before the final vote in an unprecedented move.

While many Black legislators argued that the language of the bill is meaningless, they still voted against it saying they feared that it could make some educators afraid to teach the true history of the state.

Democratic state Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House minority leader and longtime attorney, agrees with Butler’s interpretation of the law. The law threatens to cut off funding to any school that violates its conditions, though Johnson said there is no enforcement mechanism in the proposal.

“This law does not prohibit the teaching of critical race theory,” Johnson said. “It does not prevent teachers who are brave and want to challenge their students from doing so.”

The bill lawmakers passed earlier this year did not include the term “critical race theory” in its text. The only mention was at the bottom of the final page of the bill where in nondescript type it reads “ST: Critical Race Theory: prohibit.” The Mississippi Legislature’s website also displays what is known as the short title of the bill “Critical Race Theory, prohibit” if the bill is called up.

Various right wing groups and politicians have argued that critical race theory attempts to create racial strife and attempts to place undue burdens on young white children. Butler said that is not the case.

“Unfortunately, I’ve had many students in my class at the law school who are behind,” Butler said. “They received very limited formal education (as did I) about the antebellum era, the causes of the and secession, the reconstruction era, and the civil rights movement. A civil rights class in law school is meant to discuss civil rights statutes and case law and how to use them to address legal injustices.

“While some civil rights history is covered in law school, it is not a substitute for a history class. I am concerned about what the last two years of messaging will do to students’ understanding of, not only history, but the valiant struggle by advocates of many races, sexes, genders, and religions to strengthen our conceptions of democracy, liberty, and equal protection.”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson State University receives grant from National Park Service

161 views – Mississippi – 2022-08-25 15:30:16

Jackson University will be receiving $650,000 to help preserve its oldest building and a key location from the Movement.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz, who oversees the National Park Service, with university leaders Thursday to announce the grant, which will go towards projects at Ayers Hall and the COFO Civil Rights Education Center.

In this image taken from video on Monday, July 8, 2019, the Mississippi Writers Trail marker honoring novelist and poet Margaret Walker Alexander, stands in the foreground of Ayers Hall on the Jackson State University campus, after being unveiled in Jackson, Miss. Walker was an English professor from 1949 to 1979. Ayers Hall is the original academic building on the campus.

Estenoz said the National Park Service has been providing grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities since the 1990’s. JSU is one of the largest HBCU’s in the nation…

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James Meredith 60th anniversary events planned at University of Miss.

156 views – Mississippi – 2022-08-23 14:13:09

Oct. 1 will mark 60 years since era icon James Meredith desegregated the University of Mississippi.

The anniversary will be marked by a number of events beginning in September and continuing through July of next year.

Meredith’s push to desegregate one of the most prominent segregated universities in America was a key moment of the Civil Rights Era and culminated in him being escorted onto campus in the Fall of 1962 by armed soldiers.

The night before, a riot on campus resulted in two deaths and hundreds of injuries. It required 30,000 troops to quell the mob and enroll the…

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‘The Movement Made Us’: Father and son reflect on past


In ‘The Movement Made Us,’ father and son reflect on the past, both remembered and forgotten

David Dennis Jr. grew up with two versions of David Dennis Sr.: one, an activist at the very center of the movement who skirted countless times; the other, his father, the man whose approval and attention he desperately wanted. 

He remembers wondering as a child how his father “could fight for strangers while the people you said you loved the most fell apart,” he described in a letter written to his dad. 

David Dennis Sr. (left) and David Dennis Jr.

It was only through writing “The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Son, and the Legacy of a Freedom Ride” that Dennis Jr. was able to fully reconcile the two. 

“(Writing this book) really brought the two together and helped me understand how one informed the other, and how both created this complete person who led to me, and then to my kids, and all of that,” Dennis said in an interview with Mississippi Today.

“The Movement Made Us” is at once historical and intimately personal – the story is of a father and son, through whom the reader gets a glimpse into an entire lineage. It is also a deeply moving account of the civil rights movement in the South by a man who was in the eye of every storm: the Freedom Rides, Freedom Summer, the murder of Medgar Evers and the Harlem riot of 1964. 

The book begins with his father as a college student at Dillard University in New Orleans who was initially more interested in ensuring he got his degree and dating an attractive activist than protesting and being arrested. That changed at a meeting following attacks on Freedom Riders in Anniston and Birmingham who were traveling the South in protest of segregation on buses. The meeting was to discuss whether the rides would continue and was attended by Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Andrew Young and other civil rights giants. 

It was there that Dennis Sr. heard something that changed the trajectory of his life forever: “Okay, now make your choice, because there’s not enough space in this room for both God and fear.” 

After that, all hesitation fell away: he was wholly and completely dedicated to the Movement. 

Dennis Sr. went on to serve as field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Louisiana and Mississippi from 1961 through 1965 and as co-director with Bob Moses of the Voter Education Committee of the Council of Federated Organizations. He was part of organizing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and worked with Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers and James Cheney. 

He helped find Hamer safety and care after she, along with other activists, were brutally beaten in the Winona jail. He delivered Evers’ eulogy and, if not for a bout of bronchitis, would have been the fourth passenger in the car with Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner that fatal night in Neshoba County.    

Dennis Jr. writes his father’s stories as if his father were telling them himself – he successfully uses in-depth interviews with his father and other civil rights workers, CORE files and correspondence and historical research to write an account that makes the readers feel as if they are Dennis Sr.’s very mind in the middle of these harrowing events. 

He masterfully fills in gaps in his father’s memory in ways that are just as telling as if Dennis Sr. had remembered each detail. The two had planned to visit Bogalusa to revisit the stories of the Deacons for Defense and Justice and the site of Bloody Wednesday, but Dennis Sr. came down with a stomach ache before they left. Bloody Wednesday refers to the events of May 19, 1965, when a mob of white people joined by officers attacked and brutalized Black men, women and children at whites-only Cassidy Park. 

Dennis Jr. went without his dad and visited with the organizers and family members of the Deacons for Justice. Valeria Hicks, one of the Deacons, told him it was Dennis Sr. who had sent them to Cassidy Park to desegregate it, having no idea it would turn into a bloodbath. 

“I know you’re reading this and laughing,” Dennis Jr. wrote in the letter to his dad in the book about his trip. “Because when I tried to tell you what Mrs. Hicks said, you said that calling for the people in Bogalusa to go to Cassidy Park was one of those memories that got closed away forever, and you still don’t remember doing it but ‘it sounds like something I would have done.’ You also swore your stomach ache came from something you ate or whatever. I believe you on both accounts.” 

He goes on to write about the lesson he learned when writing the book: sometimes the forgotten parts of one’s past are just as important as the remembered. 

“I’ve come to understand that your history is as much about what you don’t remember as it is about what you can recall with precise certainty,” Dennis Jr. writes in a letter to his father in the book. “… But you know that our bodies tell the stories our minds can’t.”   

Letters from Dennis Jr. to his father and children are peppered in between his father’s stories. They offer insights into his relationship with his father and show the unsettling parallels between what Dennis Sr. lived through in the 1960s and the events of 2018, 2019 and 2020, during which the father and son were writing the book, and Dennis Jr., a journalist, was covering the murders of Black men like Ahmaud Arbery and the ensuing Black Lives Matter movement. 

“It was the summer of 2020. The summer of reckoning. The summer of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks and the largest protest in American history. I was tearing myself apart trying to cover as much of the American terror as possible, traveling to Brunswick, Georgia, to get the story of Ahmaud Arbery and chronicling every police killing because I felt like it was my responsibility to save these lives that had already been taken from us. I was burning out, breaking down, and falling apart.” 

At the same time, his father had gone off the grid. The killings of that year were too similar to the murders in the 1960s – it was more than he could take. 

Dennis Sr. had seen the of George Floyd, screaming that he couldn’t breathe and asking for his mother. He had spent years wondering how it was when Chaney and Evers and all the others had died. Now, he saw.

“I’m seeing how they died now, Davy. George Floyd cried for his damn momma. I can’t stop hearing him screaming … For the first time I watched what it was like for white folks to kill us slowly,” he told his son over the phone. “… I hadn’t even considered if Medgar or James screamed for their mommas. Now I can’t stop wondering if they did.” 

Dennis Jr. said that was a very dark period for both him and his father. 

“You can feel like nothing has changed – you can let that despair take over, and I was letting that happen,” he said. 

The two “came out the other side,” though, he said. They finished the book, which has been met with well-deserved praise and described as incredibly timely and “one of the most important books about the Civil Rights Movement” by author Clint Smith. 

Dennis Jr. and his father will return to Mississippi, the scene of so much of the book, to the Mississippi Book Aug. 20. The father and son will join Dr. Leslie-Burl McLemore, a fellow civil rights activist and director of the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy at Jackson University, for a panel moderated by Pamela Junior, director of the Two Mississippi Museums.

“It’s special because there’s so much that’s happened there, and so many of the people are still there,” he said. “… I’m hoping we can go back to Mississippi as often as possible. There’s so much soul and spirit in the book (and its characters), and you can feel it when you’re there.”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Activists call for arrest of Carolyn Donham who was allegedly in on the murder of Emmett Till

141 views – WXXV Staff – 2022-07-01 17:15:02

National Activist John C. Barnett and other local activists traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to hold a press conference demanding the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham.

An unserved warrant was found last week in a Mississippi courthouse charging Donham in the 1955 kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till.

The group of activists traveled to Raleigh and hosted the rally in front of the district attorney’s office…

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Emmett Till family’s quest for justice: Warrant discovery is latest step


Arrest warrant discovery is latest step in Emmett Till family’s decades-long quest for justice

It’s been nearly 70 years since Emmett Till was lynched in the Mississippi Delta, but his family has not given up on justice. 

Last week, a search team that includes Till family members Deborah and Teri Watts discovered the original, unserved arrest warrant for the only living accomplice to Till’s in the basement of the Leflore County courthouse in Greenwood. 

Deborah Watts, Till’s cousin and founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, said uncovering the document is the result of the family’s perseverance and determination. 

“We never accepted (the) closing of this case by the authorities or gave up hope,” she said in a Thursday statement. “We have always pushed for full accountability of all those involved in Emmett’s murder who may still be alive.”

The uncovered warrant is for Carolyn Bryant Donham, listed as “Mrs. Roy Bryant,” and is dated Aug. 29, 1955, days after Till’s death. The document had been in the courthouse for 67 years.

She was formerly married to Roy Bryant, who with his half-brother, J.W. Milam, killed 14-year-old Till who was visiting family from Chicago. They kidnapped him after Donham wrongfully accused Till of grabbing her and making unwanted advances. 

Donham is now in her 80s and most recently lived in North Carolina. 

The Department of Justice reopened Till’s case several times in the past two decades, but no new charges were made. The two men tried for his murder in 1955 were acquitted by an all-white jury. 

For several years, family members, supporters and the foundation have called for justice for Till and for Donham to be held accountable. Finding the original warrant could make that happen, they say. 

The Till family sent certified copies of the warrant to local and federal law enforcement, according to the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation. They are asking the U.S. Department of Justice Division and the Mississippi Fourth District Attorney’s Office to consider the warrant new evidence, investigate and charge Donham as an accessory in Till’s death. 

The search team, which also includes foundation ambassador Melissa Earnest, family ambassador Khali Rasheed and filmmaker and justice advocate Keith Beauchamp, received access to the courthouse on June 21, according to the foundation.

The team went through boxes organized by decade, and Rasheed found a file folder containing the warrant, according to the foundation.The original warrant and file and a certified copy can be found at the Leflore County courthouse. 

Beauchamp was granted access in March for an initial search for the warrant, according to the foundation. A few months earlier, Earnest told Watts that the warrant may possibly be in Leflore County. 

Watts said the pursuit of justice is dedicated to and honors Till and other late family members: his mother, Mamie Till Mobley; cousin Simeon Wright, who was the last to see him alive; and great uncle Mose Wright, whose home Till stayed at before his death. 

Family members have been seeking justice since Till’s death, according to the foundation. His mother chose to have an open casket at his funeral to show the world what happened to Till, and she continued to fight for justice until her death in 2003. 

In March, Till’s family and supporters visited the Mississippi Capitol and delivered a petition with over 300,000 signatures to the ’s office calling for Donham to be charged. 

Family members founded the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, whose goal is to preserve the memory and legacy of Till and his mother’s hope for justice. The group hopes to create a legacy of hope by bridging the past, present and future through programs, according to the foundation’s website. 

In the petition, the foundation links Till’s death to modern killings of Black people, such as George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Eric Garner in New York.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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