Powerful writing on racism could inspire SCOTUS to hear Mississippi case


This judge’s powerful writing on racism could inspire U.S. Supreme Court to hear Mississippi case

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language. Also, you can read Judge James Graves’ complete dissent at the bottom of this story.

A dissent written by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Graves Jr. could play a key role in determining whether the will hear an appeal of a case that has, so far, upheld Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era constitutional provision written to keep Black people from .

Last month, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Mississippi constitutional provision that bans people convicted of certain felonies from voting. White leaders in Mississippi included most of those specific felonies in the state’s 1890 Constitution because they thought those crimes were more likely to be committed by African Americans.

Though attorneys challenging the provision in court say it has continued to disenfranchise Black Mississippians, a majority of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree. Following the appeals court’s ruling, plaintiff attorneys said they plan to appeal the lower court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have 90 days from the final verdict that was issued on Aug. 24 the file the appeal.

Graves, a Black man from Mississippi who was appointed to the federal appeals court in 2010, wrote a 47-page dissent that outlines the state’s long and disturbing history of racism and its impact on America.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the who is working on the case, said Graves’ dissent could increase the odds the Supreme Court will take up the case.

“A strong dissent like that of Justice Graves’ can highlight for the Supreme Court that this is an important case where the Court of Appeals is sharply divided,” said McDuff, who has argued four cases before the nation’s highest court. “This increases the chances the Supreme Court will take the case although it’s no guarantee.”

READ MORE: 5th Circuit upholds Jim Crow-era law written to keep Black Mississippians from voting

A majority of the 17 members of the Court of Appeals that heard the case acknowledged that the felony suffrage provision, like many in the 1890 Constitution, was intended to prevent African Americans, then a majority in the state, from voting. That reality would be difficult to deny.

“The plan is to invest permanently the powers of government in the hands of the people who ought to have them: the white people,” James Zachariah George, a U.S. senator who was one of the architects of the 1890 Constitution and to this day has a statue in the U.S. Capitol representing Mississippi, said at the time.

But the nine members of the court who made up the majority in the recent ruling said that when state lawmakers added murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes in 1968, “the racial taint” was removed because the original 1890 language crafted by George and others had been amended.

“The critical issue here is not the intent behind Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution, but whether the reenactment of Section 241 (the felony disenfranchisement language) in 1968 was free of intentional racial discrimination,” the nine-member majority wrote.

The majority concluded it was.

“Mississippi (represented by the office of Lynn Fitch) has conclusively shown that any taint associated with Section 241 has been cured,” the majority wrote last month in an unsigned opinion.

But in his blistering dissent, Graves methodically wrote that the racial taint had not at all been removed by state lawmakers in the 1960s.

He pointed out that the Legislature did not reenact Section 241 in 1968; it simply passed a provision to include murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes. Section 241 would have remained in effect regardless of whether the amendment adding murder and rape was approved by voters.

And perhaps more importantly, Graves pointed out many of the people in the Legislature and indeed the electorate as a whole at that time had been engaged in preventing Black Mississippians from voting and from integrating schools and society. Many of those same people had been engaged in violence against African Americans.

Graves cited Tom Brady, a member of the in 1968. Graves pointed out Brady wrote in a book that was available in many Mississippi schools: “You can dress a chimpanzee, housebreak him, and teach him to use a knife and fork, but it will take countless generations of evolutionary development, if ever, before you can convince him that a caterpillar or cockroach is not a delicacy. Likewise the social, economic and religious preferences of the Negro remain close to the caterpillar and the cockroach.”

Graves, in his dissent, also pointed out that in the mid 20the Century while Mississippi lawmakers were removing a racial taint from its state Constitution, according to the majority ruling, white South African leaders were traveling to Mississippi “to learn how best to keep their own Black population disempowered and impoverished in perpetuity,” and earlier Nazi leader Adolph Hitler proclaimed the goal of making a conquered region “our Mississippi.”

Graves cited a passage from a 1960s newspaper article detailing efforts during school desegregation when Mississippians were, according to the Court’s majority opinion, removing the racial taint from the felony suffrage provision of the 1890 Constitution.

“Some husky young men were whipping a little Negro girl with pigtails,” the reporter wrote. “She was running. The men chased after her, whooping and leaping up and down like animals.”

The dissent was filled with such reports of violence and of loss of life for African Americans.

Graves, a Clinton native, was one of the first African American circuit judges in the state – appointed to the post in 1991 by then-Gov. Ray Mabus. In 2001, he was appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. President Barack Obama appointed him to a slot on the federal Court of Appeals in 2010.

Graves, in his dissent, recalled his own upbringing and life in Mississippi.

“Recounting Mississippi’s history forces me to relive my experiences growing up in the Jim Crow era,” he wrote. “While I do not rely on those experiences in deciding this case, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that I recall them. Vividly.

“So I confess that I remember in 1963 a cross that was burned on my grandmother’s lawn two doors down from where I grew up,” he wrote.

Graves goes on to recount his experiences with school desegregation, and his disdain after being appointed to the judiciary of having to serve under the state that contained the battle emblem as part of its design.

Graves also highlights actions in 2020 by the Legislature to replace the flag. But after that historic achievement, he pointed out Mississippi to this day is the only state to recognize a Confederate Heritage Month, and while other states recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mississippi honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the same day.

“I recount these events, as a native Mississippian, only to highlight the importance of making the right decision in this case,” Graves wrote.

Read Judge Graves’ complete dissent below. His dissent begins on page 36.

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

JSU: Jackson water crisis highlights limitation of government


‘The wall people are running into’: For JSU student, city water crisis highlights limitation of government

Maisie Brown pulled her aunt’s army green Ford Edge onto I-55, heading north past the port-a-potties outside the Hilton on County Line Road. 

The Jackson State University junior was on a mission last Wednesday – two days after Gov. Tate Reeves declared a water emergency in Jackson – to deliver water to elderly and disabled people in the capital city. Her first stop was Academy Sports and Outdoors, a retailer in the plush city of Madison, to pick up nearly two dozen 24-packs of bottled water. 

That Brown had to trek outside the city limits to buy water is indicative of one of the many systemic issues at the heart of Jackson’s water crisis: The whiter, wealthier suburbs – recipients of population growth post-integration – aren’t dealing with the same crisis today.

“People look down on Jackson, but give it a decade,” Brown said before applying a light-pink shade of Victoria’s Secret lip gloss. “This is going to be everyone’s reality soon.” 

Like most people from the Jackson-metro area, Brown was rarely fazed by the city’s boil water notices, as typical as the crater-like potholes. The 22-year-old grew up seeing stacks of plastic water jugs in her grandparents’ house off State Street – “not because they like to drink water like a fish,” she said, “but sometimes you never know when it’s going to be on the and they tell you to boil water.” 

But Brown’s attitude changed on Aug. 29, when Reeves announced in an evening press conference that the city would be without clean, running water “indefinitely.” The pressure had dropped so low that many of Jackson’s 150,000 residents weren’t receiving water at all. 

In the coming days, the Mississippi National Guard would be staffing water distribution sites across the city – but getting there would require a car, a significant barrier in a state that has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the country. 

That night, Brown realized it was unclear how, if at all, the state was planning to bring water to elderly and disabled folks who wouldn’t be able to drive to the distribution sites. So the student activist, known for her role in helping to coordinate the city’s largest protest since the movement, decided it was time to mobilize. She posted a call-out on social media for volunteers to help her deliver water. 

“The state has consistently ignored Jackson’s asks for help,” she said. “We are not high-priority for the people in power, because of the Black, poverty-stricken population that we are.”

Within 24 hours, Brown raised over nearly $2,500 (it’s more than $6,000 now) and assembled more than 20 JSU students to start the “MS Student Water Crisis Advocacy Team.” Together, they’ve delivered about 1,000 cases of water to more than 200 homes, organizing drop-offs via a shared spreadsheet.  

Marquise Hunt delivers water to a Jackson, Mississippi resident Tamela Davis on September 1, 2022.

Brown’s iPhone hasn’t stopped ringing since. That Wednesday morning, she got 14 calls: A representative asked if she could include Brown’s number on a list of water distribution resources; a stranger requested a delivery for a friend with multiple sclerosis; several journalists from national media reached out for an interview.

Most calls were from Jacksonians who couldn’t get to the city and state distribution sites. Whether they offered an explanation or not, Brown delivered water. 

“If the government could do everything, then there’d be no nonprofit or grassroots organizations,” she said. “The whole structure of government, the way it’s built today, is not enough to help people. That’s the wall people are running into.” 

As Brown exited I-55, a 917 area code popped up on the Ford Edge’s dashboard. 

“Who is this from New York calling me?” Brown said. 

It was a producer from CNN – the first of five media calls Brown would receive that day on the temporary number she had created for the hotline. Before the producer could finish pitching Brown on a segment, she was interrupted by a Jacksonian who called the hotline for a water delivery. (Brown got so many calls from reporters last week that she had to post on Twitter asking them not to use the hotline.) 

“This is my phone all day long,” Brown said when she hung up. 

A few minutes later, she pulled into the shopping plaza where Academy was located and checked her phone, hoping they wouldn’t cancel her order like the in Byram had the day before.

Brown spotted two Academy workers wheeling cases of water on a blue platform dolly. She hopped out of the car to greet them, then popped the trunk. One of the workers stared at it for a second and frowned. 

“I know y’all are probably like who the f— is ordering 20 packs of water?” Brown said jokingly. 

“No, I get it,” he replied. “Y’all are good.” 

For Brown, a political science major, the water emergency has sparked big-picture questions about the role of government in a democratic society and who it really serves. The one-party state government doesn’t serve everyone in Mississippi, Brown said, because it was not elected by everyone. Black Mississippians, more likely to vote Democratic, are also disenfranchised at higher rates than white people. 

“We’re a red state, but we’re a Black state too,” Brown said. “People forget that part.” 

This perspective has led Brown to push for change on an array of systemic issues in Mississippi, including the state flag that held the Confederate battle emblem, the “pink tax” on menstrual products, and the disproportionate impact of abortion bans on Black and low-income people. 

Brown said she views this work as a way of building a better world – an outlook she adopted after reading the “Faces at the Bottom of the Well,” a book by Derrick Bell.

“The work you’re doing is not in vain, but will be a model for a new society – a better one,” Brown said, paraphrasing the introduction by the lawyer Michelle Alexander. “That keeps me motivated.” 

On her way back from Madison, Brown stopped at her first drop-off, an orange-and-red apartment complex behind a car dealership on South Frontage Road. Two young men helped Brown carry the 29-lb packs of water cases to the front door. 

Then it was off to west Jackson, where Brown had two stops to make. The first was at a house with red trim on Maple Street near Lanier High School, the first high school built for Black kids in Jackson. The woman who lived there wasn’t home but worried someone might take the water cases, so she asked Brown to leave them behind the bushes next to her doorstep. 

Even though Brown is from Madison, she’s well acquainted with this part of the city – her dad’s side of the family used to own a restaurant here, but now it’s boarded up. Brown also went to school in the city, because her dad is a principal in Jackson’s school district. On the weekends, he’d go to block parties to meet the community, and she’d tag along. 

“It’s very rare that people who don’t live in Jackson try to go to school here,” she said. “It’s always the opposite way.” 

Indeed, the phenomenon that Brown is getting at – white flight – is another contributing factor to Jackson’s water crisis. The overgrown bushes and derelict buildings in west Jackson are an above-ground symptom of the billions in lost tax dollars as 71% of white residents have left since 1980. Beneath the city, the water lines are deteriorating just the same. 

Marquise Hunt (left) and Maisie Brown deliver water to a Jackson, Mississippi resident on September 1, 2022.

The temperature was starting to get hot and muggy. Outside the yellow duplex where Brown made her next delivery, a man was blowing cut grass off the sidewalk. Brown thought about delivering water to the next-door neighbor, but decided against it – a pitbull, panting in front of a silver water bowl, guarded the porch. 

As Brown turned to leave, he asked if she had enough cases for the neighboring house – if so, he’d call the man who lived there to ask. 

“How long y’all doing the water?” he asked.

“As long as the money comes in to keep doing more,” she replied. 

Brown’s last stop for the day was in North Jackson at a red brick house in a subdivision near Hope Spring Missionary Baptist Church, one of the oldest churches in Jackson, established in 1865 to serve freed slaves. A woman answered the door, revealing a large painting of a white, fluffy cat in the dim entryway. 

“You brought me some water,” she remarked. “I didn’t have any water. Thank you.”

Sitting in her car in the woman’s driveway, Brown took a moment to pause. She turned up the volume on “America Has a Problem,” her favorite song from Beyonce’s latest album, and thought about preparing for a TV interview that night. 

“Alright,” she said, “let me figure out some things while I’m at a stopping point.” 

Then her phone rang.

The images in this story are from Deep Indigo Collective, a visual storytelling resource supporting news outlets reporting on the local impacts of environmental threats and the climate crisis. As a 501(c)(3) organization, Deep Indigo is proud to produce original visual journalism on behalf of our editorial partners across the United States.

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

5th Circuit upholds Jim Crow-era law to keep Black Mississippians from voting


5th Circuit upholds Jim Crow-era law written to keep Black Mississippians from voting

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court ruling allowing a provision of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution designed to keep African Americans from to remain in place.

The provision places a lifetime ban on voting in most instances on people convicted of certain felonies — crimes that the framers of the 1890 state Constitution said Black Mississippians were more prone to commit.

The framers did not disenfranchise people convicted of murder or rape, for instance, but did strip voting rights of people convicted of several “lesser crimes,” which the writers of the Constitution falsely believed would be committed by African Americans.

The “per curiam” or unsigned opinion of the 5th Circuit said because of actions taken by the Legislature in the 1950s and 1960s allowing voters a chance to amend the constitutional provision, among other things adding murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes, the provision no longer has a racist taint.

“Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Section 241 as it currently stands was motivated by discriminatory intent or that any other approach to demonstrating the provision’s unconstitutionality is viable,” the majority said.

The majority opinion also cited the Legislature taking up the issue in the 1980s and opting not to change it.

The provision was defended on behalf of the state by the office of Lynn Fitch.

The among other groups brought the on behalf of two Black Mississippians who had lost the right to vote: Roy Harness and Kamal Karriem, convicted of forgery and embezzlement, respectively.

“This provision was a part of the 1890 plan to take the vote away from Black people who had attained it in the wake of the ,” said Rob McDuff, director of the Impact Litigation Project at the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals is allowing it to remain in place despite its racist origins. Despite this setback, we will continue this battle and seek review in the .”

The case was considered by 17 members of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, considered one of the most conservative judiciaries in the nation. Oral arguments were held in the case in September 2021 in New Orleans.

In a statement, Fitch’s office said, “We are pleased with the court’s decision.  As the court noted, ‘Plaintiffs’ proposal that a state constitutional amendment must be voted on word for word to avoid any vestigial racial taint is radically prescriptive…. No subsequent case law supports plaintiffs’ novel, judicially crafted political theory of public consent.'”

”Seven of the 17 members dissented with the majority opinion. Circuit Judge James Graves Jr., previously a member of the , wrote a lengthy dissent detailing the state’s sordid racist past, including events from the 1960s when the Legislature allowed the electorate to vote on the constitutional provision. That vote allowed murder and rape to be added as disenfranchising crimes, but did not give the electorate the opportunity to vote on whether other changes needed to be made to the provision or whether the entire Jim Crow provision should be stricken from the Constitution.

As part of Graves’ history of the state’s racial past, he cited progress that led to the election of Black officials — including him as a judge — and led to the replacement of the old Mississippi state that contained the battle emblem as part of its design.

Citing that the state had not been allowed to vote on the provision, Graves wrote: “Mississippians have simply not been given the chance to right the wrongs of its racist origins. And this court … deprives Mississippians of this opportunity by upholding an unconstitutional law enacted for the purpose of discriminating against Black Mississippians on the basis of race.”

In his opening, Graves quoted segregationist former Mississippi Gov. James K. Vardaman.

“There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter … Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the nigger from politics … In Mississippi we have in our Constitution legislated against the racial peculiarities of the Negro … When that device fails, we will resort to something else.”

In Mississippi, people with felony convictions must petition the Legislature to get a bill passed by a two-thirds majority of both chambers to regain voting rights. Normally only a handful (less than five) of such bills are successful each session. There is also the option of the governor granting a pardon to restore voting rights, but no governor has granted pardons since Haley Barbour in 2012.

For a subset of those who lose their rights, the courts can expunge their record. In some instances that expungement includes the restoration of voting rights, while for others it does not. That outcome depends on the preference of the judge granting the expungement.

Those crimes placed in the Constitution where conviction costs a person the right to vote are bribery, , arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery, embezzlement, bigamy and burglary.

Under the original language of the Constitution, a person could be convicted of cattle rustling and lose the right to vote, but those convicted of murder or rape would still be able to vote — even while incarcerated.

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

In ‘South to America,’ Imani Perry seeks to understand a region ‘so varying it can seem endless’


In ‘South to America,’ Imani Perry seeks to understand a region ‘so varying it can seem endless’

Imani Perry

Imani Perry’s argument in “South to America” will feel familiar to any Southerner, or to anyone at all, who has ever been startled by the cheerful dismissals of the region you sometimes encounter elsewhere in the United States. “I’d never want to go to the South,” people up north have said when I told them where I’m from, as if it is a singular place uniformly deserving of disinterest or contempt. Perry, a native of Birmingham, Ala., argues that this tendency to treat the South – and especially its brutal history of racist exploitation and violence – as excisable from the rest of the country is a convenient fantasy. 

The argument will also be familiar to anyone who has read much about the modern history of “the South” — a label that can sometimes feel more theoretical than lived, given the diversity of the place. As Perry writes, “The South is so varying it can seem endless. And yet you will still know ‘Southern’ means something over and against other regions.”

Writers’ journeys here are often a quest to understand our under-examined, intentionally obscured or distorted history, from Tony Horowitz’s “Confederates in the Attic” (a book Perry criticizes for its softness on white re-enactors and their devotion to Lost Cause mythology) to Clint Smith’s recent “How the Word is Passed.” Perry is a professor of African American studies at Princeton University and author of books on Lorraine Hansberry and the Black National Anthem, and she is very clear about the tradition she follows: “South to America” was directly inspired by Albert Murray’s book “South to A Very Old Place,” first published in 1971. 

Murray was born and raised in Mobile and educated at Tuskegee University before moving to New York and making a career as an essayist, novelist and critic. During and after the movement, as Black writers and intellectuals debated whether the path forward was separatism or integration, Murray argued for the centrality of Black culture to American culture, and the unworkability of Black nationalism.

When “South to A Very Old Place” was published, the civil rights movement had wrought massive changes across the country, but their full significance was unclear. And though civil rights leaders had long highlighted the segregation and economic marginalization that characterized Black life in northern cities, the boundaries of the South were perhaps not as blurry as they are today. 

Perry’s view of the South as synecdoche-of-sorts for America feels salient in 2022. We remember the Confederate hoisted in the U.S. Capitol – a scene never witnessed during the – on Jan. 6. The man who carried it was from Delaware, a slave state that remained in the Union, though that fact is perhaps unimportant in an era when the Confederate flag flies across the country, no longer always or even often purporting to represent “southern pride.” 

Lawmakers in Wisconsin and Arizona join Georgians and Texans in plotting new ways to limit suffrage. The religious right, rooted in Southern evangelicalism, is ascendant. In the days after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. , the battle-worn and exhausted clinic escorts, helping the final patients make it to their appointments before the clock ran out on legal in the state, repeated some version of a bitter line: “Welcome to Mississippi, America.”

The southernization of American political life may also help explain why parts of Perry’s journey, 50 years after Murray’s, trigger similar reflections. In Atlanta, Murray visits a restaurant and is served uneventfully by a young white waitress. He thinks about what she would say if, say, Newsweek interviewed her about desegregation. He wouldn’t be surprised if she told them how “a white girl shouldn’t have to serve Negroes, and all that crap.” But then he asks: “Is what she says when interviewed on desegregation as a specific issue really more significant than the way she is acting right now with me sitting here?” 

At the Nashville airport, Perry approaches a vending machine and realizes a white man is waiting to restock it. “You can g’on and get you something,” he tells her, smiling. Perry thinks that based on his demographics, “the odds are he wouldn’t feel so warmly about me,” and that she would likely be “irked by the things he thinks about the world.” And yet there is still “the softness with which we could speak to one another.” “Whatever it is that I’m saying about the South as America includes that too.” A point that was optimistic in 1971 now feels nearly tragic. 

Murray beautifully rendered the speech of southerners, especially Black southerners in his hometown and from his university days at Tuskegee. Entire pages are filled with lengthy quotes from people he just let talk and talk. He compares the voices taking turns during a living room chat to a jazz ensemble. Perry seems to have spoken to fewer people, and her conversations with people she meets for the first time on her journey – as opposed to people she has long known as family friends or fellow writers – are often short. Their significance is sometimes derived from a heavy dose of speculation, like when a Lyft driver in Virginia becomes a symbol of toxic white evangelicalism after a strange but apparently brief exchange. 

Perry notes that her politics are quite different from those of Murray, who believed in an American identity built through all of its constitutive parts: a “nation of multi-colored people.” (When Toni Morrison reviewed “South to a Very Old Place” for the New York Times in 1972, she criticized his disinterest in “the Afro part of Afro-Americans:” “The history of black Americans neither begins nor ends in Mobile, Ala.; its true meaning will stay hidden from any black who does not know that there is another place even Souther and much, much older.”)

Perry instead draws connections between the Black South and the larger Black diaspora. In addition to 12 states and the District of Columbia, she travels to the Bahamas and Havana to show the historical and cultural linkages between the South and the Caribbean, and to gain perspective through distance. “We say the only difference between Black folks in various parts of the diaspora is where the boat stopped, but we don’t say that the boats, and the marches through land, didn’t ever stop…. There are rhythms that would be found here and there, though a different blend. This is, I think, the thing that Albert Murray got wrong about the South, even as he described those rhythms with a seriousness and a precision unlike anyone before and likely since.”

In Mississippi, Perry focuses on the city of Jackson, highlighting the historical ironies that surround those of us who live here to such a degree that we sometimes become inured to them. Jackson, Perry writes, “is part Chicago and mostly Mississippi, a place where, like the first Chokwe Lumumba, people reverse-migrate, either to start a revolution or because life in the North was too cold.” 

She describes the history of the New Afrikan People’s Organization, for which Lumumba was vice president, with “the goals of self-determination, land ownership, and an independent nation-state for New Afrikans” in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Though the Black Power movement is often conceptualized as non-Southern, she points out that it is a Deep South capital that is led by a “scion of Black nationalism,” the younger Chokwe Lumumba. And Jackson, “unapologetically Black,” is the capital of the state with the country’s largest Black population and largest number of Black elected officials, and home to two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Perry vividly describes the Sonic Boom of the South marching through the city streets). All this in the American state most synonymous with violence and murder in the name of white supremacy. 

Yet today the life expectancy for Black men in Mississippi is less than 67 years. Perry mentions, too, the Central American and Mexican poultry factory workers detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the largest raids in history. 

“We haven’t outrun or outlived the plantation, although it looks a little bit different… There’s an honesty to Mississippi about all of this. The triumph is not in ends, it is in the fact that we are still here.”

Perry is a featured panelist at the Mississippi Book on Aug. 20.

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

‘Black Cloud Rising’ tells a harrowing tale of a formerly enslaved man’s fight for freedom


‘Black Cloud Rising’ tells a harrowing tale of a formerly enslaved man’s fight for freedom

Through the eyes of Richard Etheridge, we travel the precarious path of his life in David Wright Faladé’s novel, “Black Cloud Rising.” It’s a fictional tale, interwoven with true-life events. 

Black Cloud Rising is a novel by David Wright Faladé.

Etheridge was a real person, a member of the African Brigade, fighting in the . His strength carries him and those like him on their journey to be free from bondage in a land where they know they are necessary, but not wanted; declared free, but not truly.

Etheridge, called “Dick” by all those who know him, was born a slave on Roanoke Island, the son of a slave mother and their owner. He is taught to read and write by his half-sister, his owner’s abolitionist daughter. 

His memories of being an “almost” member of his white owner’s family to his Freedman status as a fighting man leave him torn in his feelings of being conditioned to feeling he is a nobody to becoming and believing he is a somebody. 

Etheridge sees and feels this as he eventually attains the rank of sergeant. The validity of the brigade’s existence is a constant specter. Black men in Union blue, Black men fighting and killing white men, Black men free; juxtaposed against duty to country, family, and oneself. He was a naive 21-year-old when he joined the brigade, their mission — track down guerrillas in the fall 1863. 

Many brigade members like Etheridge fight on the very land where they were once enslaved, battling not only their own conditioned questioning of place as they face off against their former owners, and their sons and brothers, but the morality of it. A morality he comes face to face with on the battlefield, eye to eye with his own half-brother, who once told him he was “just like family.” 

“Just like family? We are family!” is Etheridge’s reply. He knows deep in his soul too, that freedom is the rallying cry at any cost.

The book’s title, “Black Cloud Rising,” derives from a song of the era, sung about Black Union troops like Etheridge and his brigade comrades. Their leader is a ginger bearded abolitionist named Edward Wild. “Wild” in his eyes and carriage, he’s a General and John Brown type, a force to be reckoned with, who frees all slaves he, Etheridge, and the African Brigade encounter as they fight their way to securing the North Carolina coastal region and its backwaters. Etheridge and the others in the brigade respect and love him for it.

The brigade is glorious to the enslaved who lay eyes upon them and despised by the white Southerners who loathe and fear them. “When this country is retaken, you ni**ers who’ve betrayed it will not fare well,” Etheridge is admonished by his general’s chastised brother. 

“I suspect you are right. Still, I’ll take my chances on freedom,” is Etheridge’s reply.

Faladé brings Etheridge’s “chance on freedom” to life in an arduous, frightening, and bloody journey to freedom; a tale of long ago and seldom talked about. 

Faladé is a featured panelist at the Mississippi Book on Aug. 20.

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

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

Bill LaForge abruptly out as Delta State president


‘I am very disappointed’: Bill LaForge abruptly out as Delta State president

The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has decided that Delta State University president William LaForge’s last day will be at the end of this month, marking a sudden end to a nine-year tenure that oversaw budget instability, some progressive initiatives at the university, and sharp declines in enrollment due to the pandemic. 

Though the trustees made the decision at the board meeting last week, LaForge wrote in a lengthy campus-wide email that IHL did not tell him until “just prior” to sending out a press release Monday night. 

“I am very disappointed in the decision, but I accept the outcome and am fully prepared to move on,” he wrote. 

Through a university spokesperson, LaForge declined to talk with Mississippi Today, but he wrote in his email to the campus that the reason IHL gave for his departure was primarily financial. 

“The very basic explanation I was provided was that the IHL Board thinks a leadership change is warranted because the comparative state of the university from the time when I began my service in 2013 until now is not favorable — especially with respect to enrollment metrics and financial sustainability,” LaForge wrote. 

IHL did not provide its own reason for the move, and the trustees did not discuss the decision publicly at the board meeting last week. In IHL’s press release, Tom Duff, the board president, noted that “these are challenging times for higher education.” 

The board also announced that it had named E.E. “Butch” Caston as an interim replacement. Caston has held multiple administrative positions at Delta State University and Mississippi University for Women. 

“I appreciate Dr. Caston’s willingness to take on the role of interim president and feel certain that he will be able to address many of the issues facing Delta State at this time, including declining enrollment, fiscal challenges, and infrastructure,” Duff said. 

LaForge will be the first university president to depart after IHL made its presidential search process more confidential through a series of policy changes earlier this year. In April, the board voted to make it so search committee members are anonymous, even to each other, and to decrease the role that campus advisory groups play in selecting the president. 

Faculty are concerned these changes will make university presidents less accountable to students, faculty and staff. 

LaForge came to the university in 2013 with no experience in higher education. He had primarily worked in politics as chief of staff for Sen. Thad Cochran and as a lobbyist, but he had also served as president Delta State’s alumni association. 

“This is a career direction change for me,” LaForge said in 2013. “I have not been in higher education administration and I hope to be able to translate the skill sets I have.”

LaForge’s tenure has been marked by cyclical budget cuts. The first round came about a year after he took office. In fall 2014, the university announced about $1 million in cuts, eliminating a slew of academic programs and shuttering the campus newspaper. Twenty-four positions were terminated. Students and faculty held a mock funeral in protest, the Clarion Ledger reported.

The announcement came just a few months after the university announced a higher-than-anticipated fundraising haul.  

Delta State has seen several progressive endeavors under LaForge. In 2014, the university won a national social justice award for its first “Winning the Race” conference which brought former Gov. William Winter and Rep. Bennie Thompson to campus. More recently, students and faculty held an on-campus screening of a documentary about the 1969 sit-in that led to arresting dozens on Black students. More than 500 people attended. 

Faculty led much of those initiatives, though, and the administration has been slow in other efforts. In late 2016, Delta State was the last public university in Mississippi to stop flying the state that contained the emblem. 

“I wish to make it clear that this university is making an institutional decision on this issue because the state government has declined to change the flag,” LaForge said at the time. “This is a painful decision in many respects because this is a highly charged emotional issue for many people.” 

More recently, many students, faculty and alumni have signed a petition calling on LaForge’s administration to rename the Walter Sillers Coliseum – the basketball arena named for the white supremacist founder of the Delta Council. The petition asked for the arena to be renamed in honor of Luisa “Lucy” Harris, the first Black woman on Delta State’s women’s basketball team who died earlier this year. 

LaForge has not publicly commented on the petition. His wife, Nancy, spoke at Harris’ funeral, which was held in the Coliseum. 

The university has struggled to weather the pandemic. Enrollment has dropped by 27% since fall 2019 – the largest drop of any school. In fall 2020, Delta State was the only university to raise tuition rates. 

Earlier this year, LaForge’s administration was still concerned about the budget. Minutes from a February 2022 cabinet meeting show the executive committee “has been reviewing all potential budget savings and cuts; discussing ways to reimage (sic) core programs and growth areas; and, talking about ways to realign the budget to highlight the university’s priorities.”

At IHL’s meeting last week, the trustees were briefed on each university’s budget and finances. One of the budget documents that trustees reviewed showed that Delta State has just 40 days cash on hand, the lowest reserve in the system. Delta State is also the only university facing a negative return on total assets, which means it is losing money on investments.  

In his campus-wide email, LaForge wrote that his family plans to return to northern Virginia. The appointment as university president was a homecoming for LaForge, who grew up in Cleveland, Miss., and attended Delta State as an undergrad. His father, a history professor at Delta State, is honored with a library on campus. 

“I will be forever grateful to Delta State University for all it has given me in life,” LaForge wrote. 

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

President Clinton honors life, legacy of Gov. William Winter


President Bill Clinton among attendees to honor legacy of William and Elise Winter

Katie Blount, executive director of the state Department of Archives and History, said that the Two Mississippi Museums “stand at the intersection of Gov. William Winter’s three greatest passions: history, education and racial justice.”

It was at those museums — the and history museums in downtown Jackson on Tuesday — that Mississippi paid its final respects to Winter, the 58th governor and conscience of the state. Winter died in December 2020, a few months before his wife and partner of 70 years, Elise, passed away.

READ MORE: ‘One of the greatest Mississippians’: Former Gov. William Winter remembered by friends, dignitaries

Former President Bill Clinton, whose terms as governor of Arkansas partially coincided with Winter’s tenure as Mississippi governor in the early 1980s, was among the about 800 on hand Tuesday to honor both the Winters at the Two Mississippi Museums.

“We were neighbors and so much more,” said Clinton, who at age 75 is about 22 years younger than Winter was when he died. Clinton went on to say that the Winters “had the most unusual balance. They were highly intelligent, highly energetic and openly ambitious and as good as gold because their ambition was for something worth being ambitious about.”

The Winter family decided not to hold a public service for the Winters during the early months of the pandemic. But it would have been a tragedy to completely forgo such an event considering the Winters were part of the fabric of Mississippi for more than half of a century.

Winter was elected to the Mississippi House in 1947 and later served in a litany of statewide offices, culminating with his tenure as governor. It was during that tenure that his crowning achievement was realized: the Education Reform Act of 1982, which enacted public kindergartens and a host of other improvements to the state’s schools.

As Clinton pointed out, Winter lost two elections for governor before finally capturing the seat. Those losses were attributable in large part to Winter’s moderation on the issue of race.

“When we were governors, it was rare for someone who was actually winning (elections) to stick his neck out on civil rights and have a good time doing it,” said Clinton, referencing that “Bill,” as he called Winter, always remained upbeat despite those two losses. He attributed Winter’s positive disposition to Elise.

While the Winters had a long political career, they might have been as influential after leaving office. Elise was active in Habitat for Humanity and played a key role in the development of the program in both the state and nation.

Republican Haley Barbour, who served as governor in the 2000s, told of how Winter and Reuben Anderson, who was the state’s first Black Supreme Court justice and later served with Winter on the Board of Archives and History, brought him the plan to develop the Two Mississippi Museums. The plan was approved and funded by the Legislature during Barbour’s tenure as governor.

Barbour also recounted asking the Democratic Winter to serve on a recovery board after Hurricane devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005. He said Winter played a key role on that board “because he loved Mississippi.”

It was after leaving politics that Winter became synonymous with racial reconciliation. The Winter Institute of Racial Reconciliation was developed, and he apologized personally for some of his past rhetoric, though he was universally viewed a moderate on racial issues throughout his tenure in politics.

Anderson said when the state containing the battle emblem was finally taken down in the summer of 2020 and Anderson symbolically accepted the old flag as chair of the Archives and History Board, his old friend “was on my mind.” Anderson said the flag would not have been taken down if not for the work Winter had started many years ago.

At the event, Spence Flatgard, the current president of the Archives and History Board, which Winter served on for 50 years, announced that $5 million had been raised for the William and Elise Winter Education Endowment to ensure that all children across the state would have an opportunity to tour the Two Mississippi Museums.

Blount said the Winters believed “all of us, especially our children, must understand who we are and where we come from. And let us be lifted by (the Winters’) hope, by their faith that in Winter’s words, ‘We use our history to develop a more stable, more just society.’”

READ MORE: William Winter, former Mississippi governor who ushered in education reform, dies at 97

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

Former leader of Black Caucus leaving Mississippi House

304 views – Associated Press – 2022-05-03 09:25:59

FILE – Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-, speaks at a conference on the gender pay gap at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on March 15, 2017. Williams-Barnes, who was a longtime leader in working to remove a symbol from the state said Monday, May 2, 2022, that she is stepping down to take a job with an advocacy group. She said her last day in the state House will be Sunday. The next day, she will begin…

Source link

Mississippi protesters call for end to Confederate holiday

296 views – WXXV Staff – 2022-04-26 14:49:14

Confederate Flag
Credit: Pollockdog / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — On a day that many state and local government offices were closed for in Mississippi, protesters on Monday said the state needs to stop commemorating the Confederacy.

Several members of Indivisible Northeast Mississippi held signs denouncing the in front of a Confederate monument at the old Lee County Courthouse in Tupelo,…

Source link

Mississippi gov again proclaims Confederate Heritage Month

134 views – Associated Press – 2022-04-14 07:02:30


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves is defending his decision to again name April as Heritage Month, nearly two years after he signed a law retiring the last state flag in the U.S. that featured a Confederate battle emblem.

The Republican governor signed a proclamation without fanfare Friday. It does not mention — the defense of which was Mississippi’s stated…

Source link

Go to Top