Slavery

Delta farm owners underpay, push out Black workers

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Exploited: White Delta farm owners are underpaying and pushing out Black workers

INDIANOLA – The new crop of workers arrived with clipped accents and small khaki shorts. 

Richard Strong remembers the young men – farmers back home – had never seen a massive 28,000-pound tractor until traveling some 8,000 miles to Mississippi. 

As kids, Richard and his brother, Gregory, earned calloused palms chopping cotton in the swelter of southern summers. As adults, they spent 24 years filling acres with cotton, soybeans and corn on Pitts Farms – just like their daddy had. 

“Farming is actually in our DNA,” said Richard Strong, now 51. “I could close my eyes and drive a tractor.” 

But the brothers haven’t been on a tractor or in the fields in over two years. They say they unknowingly trained themselves out of jobs when the Pitts family hired South Africans through a visa program.  

The Pitts paid their foreign workforce nearly $12 an hour while their local workers – usually Black men – made just $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, according to a Department of Labor audit that spanned 2020 and 2021. The audit also found four local workers lost out on shifts when the temporary workers arrived. 

But the Strongs and other Black workers say the pay gap existed from the first day the South Africans started at the family-owned farm several years before. Records show the Pitts started seeking foreign workers as early as 2014. Locals got an occasional pay bump on the weekends, but mostly took home federal minimum wage as the farm started giving them fewer shifts, according to years of paystubs obtained by Mississippi Today.

The Strongs and six others – who worked for the Pitts for more than 100 combined years – say they were pushed out of their jobs completely.

Richard and Gregory Strong of Indianola. Both brothers once worked for Pitts Farms, where they say they witnessed white South Africans being hired, and paid more, to do the very work the and other Black workers were doing.

“I just want to know how you do this with a clear conscience,” said Willie Mae Ward, daughter of a former Pitts worker. “I see it as slave driving.”

Pitts Farms is not the only Delta farm that has misused the program. A Mississippi Today investigation found at least five farms in the Delta paid their local workforce less money than workers who came to the state on foreign farm work permits – called H-2A visas – over the past few years.

All but one of those farms worked with an agency that specializes in recruiting South Africans, who are usually young, white and speak English. They’re eager for the American dollar, which holds 15 times the value of the South African rand. 

Across the Delta, farm owners say they’re responding to a generational shift from farming and a shortage of willing labor. Their local workforce is aging and foreign workers jump at the chance to come work in Mississippi.

But poor recruitment efforts among local workers, evidence of low wages, and a labor culture rooted in racism mean men like the Strongs wonder if there’s a future for them in the fields, or whether decades of family history end here. 

The brothers and their coworkers are named in a discrimination against Pitts Farms. It was filed last year by lawyers with the . The lawsuit alleges men, ranging in age from 42 to 71, were replaced by a younger and whiter workforce, in part by exploiting the visa program to import foreign laborers.

READ MORE: Here’s how we reported this story

Black workers have been sounding alarms across the Delta for the last year. 

This April, the lawyers handling the lawsuit against Pitts Farms filed another – this time, on behalf of five Black catfish farm workers at Harris Russell Farms in Sunflower. The workers made up to $3.38 less an hour than their South African counterparts, according to the lawsuit. 

The H-2A program is supposed to fill gaps for farmers when they cannot find enough local workers for seasonal positions. The program mandates a premium hourly wage, produced by a formula. This year in Mississippi, that wage rose to $12.45 per hour. Labor regulations mandate farms hiring H-2A workers must offer jobs to prior local workers at that adjusted rate and cannot pay current workers below it. 

Yet, another Black worker from a different Delta farm settled outside of court this year because his employer paid white South Africans more than him per hour. A recent Department of Labor investigation found two other catfish farmers – one in Indianola and the other in Tunica – paying local workers less money than those brought in through the foreign visa program, according to records obtained by Mississippi Today.  

“There has been a wholesale failure to adequately recruit U.S. farmworkers for H-2A jobs, particularly in the Mississippi Delta,” said Ty Pinkins, one of the Mississippi Center for Justice attorneys. “There are plenty of Delta residents with extensive experience who would eagerly accept a farm labor job that paid between $11 and $13 per hour.”

A South African worker heads to the fields in Sharkey County, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.

The Mississippi Delta is one of the country’s poorest regions with unemployment rates ranging from 4% to 12% across its 18 counties. 

The Pitts lawsuit was filed in September 2021 and is still moving forward in court. The farm, which has been family owned and run out of Indianola since at least 1987, declined to respond to Mississippi Today’s questions through their lawyer, but did offer a statement.

“We strongly disagree with the plaintiffs’ claims and we look forward to presenting the full set of facts in the course of the litigation and having this matter decided according to the law,” attorney Tim Threadgill said via email. 

The other farms Mississippi Today found underpaying local workers either declined to comment or never responded to a reporter.

So far this season, four of the five farms – including Pitts – have applied for foreign workers. The labor department has approved them all.

Nationwide, use of the H-2A program is exploding. 

It has more than doubled in size over the past decade, breaking a record last year when the U.S. issued nearly 258,000 of the temporary farm work visas.

In Mississippi, 368 farms asked for H2-A workers for the 2020-21 season, according to application data analyzed by Mississippi Today. Only 14 were denied. 

For the roughly 34,000 farms across Mississippi, about 400 cases have been opened by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in the past 15 years. Among that fraction, a Mississippi Today analysis found 81% of the cases ended with farms found breaking labor regulations. That’s about 10% higher than the national rate.

Critics say the fines for underpaying U.S. workers – $1,898 per offense – or failing to call back local workers for jobs are barely a deterrent. When farmers do get caught breaking wage rules, investigation records show they feign ignorance.

“For some of these employers, it’s like speeding down the highway when there’s not a lot of out,” said Jim Knoepp, a lawyer and visa program expert with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s a good gamble they’ll never get caught.” 

Richard Strong would work for another farm if he could. Farmers talk, he said. As far as he can tell, he and his brother are blacklisted. 

Strong remembers a Pitts Farms manager telling him he was taking the farm into the “new millennium.” 

“A lot of stuff was going to change,” Strong recalled. “And there was a lot of people who wasn’t going to be a part of the farm.”

That meant men like Wesley Reed, 71, and Andrew Johnson, 67. Men who were born into the Jim Crow South and came of age during the earliest years of desegregation. Men who have only ever farmed. 

They may not be as spry as they were 40 years ago, but they know their way around a row-crop tractor. Both managed to find other jobs with farmers who don’t use South Africans.

“At the time I started, it was about the only job I could get because I have no education,” Johnson said as he refueled a John Deere tractor. 

Andrew Johnson, farmer in Indianola, plowing a field in preparation for soy bean planting.

He spent two decades working for the Pitts. He can’t read, but taught himself how to set up a tractor’s satellite settings. 

Johnson and Reed cannot afford to retire. They’ve never earned enough to save much.

One of their attorneys, Gregory Schell, points to payroll records Pitts Farms produced during the court case’s discovery: individual H-2A workers earned over $41,000 working for Pitts Farms in 2019. 

Reed, Schell said, earned $11,000 that year, as the Pitts stopped giving him as many shifts.

That was his last year with the farm. Johnson’s, too. Both had planned to come back in 2020. 

Reed – who had already asked for, and been denied, a raise – says he was told that year they weren’t sure they’d need him anymore. The South Africans were coming, Reed recalled.

Johnson waited for a phone call to return to work that never came.

Before Richard Strong found a pay stub that confirmed the South Africans were making higher wages, Reed had his suspicions.

A month after the lawsuit was filed, Reed sat in his shotgun living room, still in his dirtied denim overalls from a day plowing the fields.

“Did you know, when the South Africans started, they’d be paid more? How did you know?” Reed’s daughter, Willie Mae, asked. 

He smirked. 

“Skin color,” he said.

Wesley Reed and his daughter, Willie Mae Ward, sit in the family living room. Credit: Sara DiNatale/Mississippi Today

As attorneys with the Mississippi Center for Justice were piecing together the Pitts Farms lawsuit in early 2021, investigators from the Department of Labor were beginning an audit. 

It’s unclear what prompted DOL to look into Pitts Farms and whether it was related to the lawsuit. The department’s Wage and Hour Division, which handles H-2A program violations, has a hotline – 1-866-4-USWAGE – anyone can call to anonymously report mistreatment to help steer investigators. 

The audit of the farm’s payroll began in February 2021. The entire investigation was done remotely. The agency says that was because of

Mississippi Today obtained a copy of the Pitts Farms audit through a public records request. 

On June 4, 2021, investigators had a conference call with Pitts Farms to explain that the Indianola business was facing 18 labor violations, owed local workers $76,000 in missing wages, and was being fined $25,000. 

Investigators wrote in their report Lisa Tharp, the office manager, said she and Pitts Farms were “not aware that local U.S. corresponding workers needed to be paid the same as H-2A workers.” 

But every year from 2014 to 2019 the Pitts applied for H-2A workers the farm’s owner, Will Pitts, signed agreements on its applications confirming that job opportunities for its local workers had “no less the same benefits, wages, and working conditions” as the incoming H-2A workers.

Despite Pitts Farms’ admission, the audit only looked at two seasons of the farm’s payroll: 2020 and 2021.

The two catfish farm owners in the Delta who were told to pay a combined $102,000 in back wages to their local workers in 2020 had a similar response when confronted about underpaying workers, according to investigation reports. The catfish cases also examined two years of payroll.

In a statement, the labor department said each of its investigations is driven by “the availability of evidence, including records and testimony.” Generally, the agency said, it applies a two-year investigation period as its standard scope. 

“Had they gone back even one more year, they would have picked up on every one of our clients being underpaid,” said Schell, one of the men’s attorneys. 

Of the eight men included in the Pitts Farms case, only one got a portion of the $76,000 in wages the investigators found missing from workers’ paychecks, according to Schell.

Before asking for foreign workers, Pitts – like all H-2A farms – was required to offer jobs to the locals who had worked at the farm before, usually by mail. Investigators found Pitts hadn’t done that, either. 

The farm argued that the local workers who lived on the farm’s property were drawing unemployment and did not want to work out of fear of COVID-19 exposure. Yet, as the investigators pointed out, the violations occurred before the pandemic began. 

Schell called the audit a perfunctory investigation.

He estimates the men in the lawsuit are owed more than $100,000 in unpaid wages. There is a larger amount being sought in addition that would cover lost hours. Schell said his team is still calculating that figure.

“I’m doing the math and the Pitts came out way ahead,” he said. 

When COVID-19’s omicron variant closed the U.S. borders to South Africans, Mississippi farm owners panicked. 

They had become so reliant on South African workers that the ability to harvest crops was dependent upon their arrival. In response, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick wrote a letter to the state’s members of Congress, begging that South African farm workers be exempt from any potential travel bans.

The State Department made provisions within days so that the farm workers could travel without issue.

The visa program is popular because it brings in workers for eight to 10 months and sends them home during the winter season, McCormick told Mississippi Today

“It fits the farm industry,” he said. “No work for four months? That’s a hard thing to justify (to local workers). Maybe back in the old days, but as expensive as things are today, everybody needs to collect a paycheck every week.” 

Farmers say as their longtime workers reach retirement, there isn’t a young workforce eager – or with the proper skills – to take their places, which has added to the popularity of the H-2A program. 

“Coming generations of workers in our state, most of them did not grow up on a farm,” said Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson. “They don’t really know the current status of the type of work that’s performed or the high-tech technology it takes even to use a tractor today.” 

More than 90% of H-2A workers come from Mexico. South Africans make up about 3% of the program, according to DOL data.

Ricky Williamson, a rice and soybean farmer in Tutwiler, has been using Mexican H-2A workers for the past decade. Farmers have to reimburse travel expenses. Williamson said he uses workers from Mexico to keep those costs down. 

“I have no local labor because they don’t apply for jobs,” Williamson said. “I run ads in the paper and they don’t respond. I would like to have some, but I just think they’re not interested.”

A farm sprinkler on untilled land in Sunflower County, Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

Growers are required to advertise the jobs to U.S. workers before seeking H-2A employees. They often list farming experience requirements along with the ability to read and write or the completion of high school or high school equivalency.

Only six Delta counties have full-time WIN Job Centers, which host the job postings on their website. Swaths of the Delta struggle with reliable internet access. That leaves some agriculture experts unimpressed with the efforts farmers are taking to reach or train workers in their own zip codes.

Farm workers told Mississippi Today that finding a job is about who you know.

“White farmers say they tried to hire labor locally and couldn’t find it when they’re in a region with the highest unemployment rate in the country?” posed Lloyd Wright, the former director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“That takes a big imagination.” 

Wright has researched the Delta. He’s spent time in South Africa, too, as an expert in rural farming. 

Most of his work at the USDA involved systemic racism that limited USDA funds going to Black-owned farms, making it all the more challenging for them to survive. 

White-owned Mississippi farms have an extensive post- history of finding ways to both exploit, and minimize their reliance on, Black workers – from tenant farming and sharecropping to using European prisoners of war in the fields during World War II. A century ago, there were about 1 million Black farm owners. The USDA says of the country’s 3.4 million farmers today, only about 45,000 are Black

The mostly Black population of the Delta largely struggles in poverty. There are few industries to provide jobs other than agriculture. Small towns in the region can have upwards of 50% unemployment rates, according to a 2016 Alcorn State University study. 

Federal dollars regularly flow into the region – but to farm owners through the U.S. Department of Agriculture grants. Public records show Pitts Farms received nearly $2 million in USDA grants since 2018. 

“These towns are crumbling in the Delta,” Wright said. Since farmers accept this money readily, they need to “get local folks educated so they can provide for their communities. The bodies are available.”

Cindy Ayers Elliott is an investment-banker-turned-farm-owner based in Jackson. Like Wright, she worries the growing popularity of the H-2A program is sending needed money out of the Delta, as H-2A workers primarily save up to bring their earnings back home.  

If farm owners are struggling to attract workers, Elliot said, they need to ask themselves why. One of the answers? The children of farmworkers grew up watching their parents struggle on minimum wage. 

“Right now, systemic racism is in the farm culture in Mississippi,” she said. 

Farm owners don’t have the time to hunt down South African workers themselves – so they outsource the task. Most use an agency to handle the H-2A process from paperwork to finding a pool of applicants for a fee. 

Ty Pinkins with niece Lyell Knight in Delta City. Pinkins is an army veteran, author, attorney and son of a Delta farm worker.

Of the 354 Mississippi farms that were approved for H-2A workers last year, about half used the Mississippi-based agency C.O.C Placement Service. That same agency also handled finding workers for four of the farms Mississippi Today found underpaying its local workers. 

The company declined to speak to Mississippi Today.

Mississippi Today contacted two dozen farmers that used the agency. Most declined to speak with a reporter out of fear it would bring attention to their farm and prompt a labor department investigation.

“These practices by third-party organizations, like C.O.C Placement, simply show that there has previously been – and likely still is – widespread non-compliance by farm owners to pay local U.S. workers the (wages) required,” said Pinkins, one of the attorneys.

Mississippi farmers say they like South Africans because they’re dedicated. South Africans say they like Mississippi farmers because they want to get paid American wages. 

“When they come here, they want to go six days a week,” said Allen Flowers, who runs a mom-and-pop soybean farm in Greenwood. “They’re polite and all about being on time.” 

A 15-hour workday isn’t unusual, H-2A workers said. Nor is seeing tractors in the fields after dark when visibility is low – a risk local workers told Mississippi Today they wouldn’t feel safe taking. 

The South African workers are usually – if not always – white. The apartheid regime fell three decades ago, but the country’s 80% Black population’s historic limited access to wealth and landownership hasn’t made it easy for them to join the H-2A program. 

Neil Diamond, the president of the South African Chamber of Commerce U.S.A., says his commission is working to bring more Black South Africans into the program but their lack of participation is a definite shortfall. 

Van Der Walt, of South Africa, poses for a selfie during his time working on a Mississippi farm.

The South Africans who do make it to America get a respite from their country’s own problems, as it continues to grapple with a high rate of violent .

“Everything is about the money,” said Dwayne Van Der Walt, a former H-2A worker from South Africa. “No man would leave behind his wife and children if it wasn’t for the good salary there, so you can buy burglary-proof stuff and better fences to keep homes safer.” 

Van Der Walt, 31, spent seven years working months at a time on U.S. farms, including in Clarksdale and Greenwood. 

In America, he was able to save up about $20,000. It went far in South Africa, where he’s now a trucker. He got his commercial license while working in America. The program helped set him up to support his 3-year-old child as a single parent. 

H-2A workers told Mississippi Today that performing a similar type of farm work in South Africa would pay just a few hundred dollars a month. 

The only raise Black Pitts Farms workers ever recalled getting was when the federal minimum wage changed.

That means as recently as 1989, these workers were making just $3.35 an hour. That’s about a $1 raise each decade to hit $7.25.

In December, civil rights group the Leadership Conference Education Fund wrote a letter to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh stating the department’s efforts to protect Black southern workers was “falling short.” They were referring to the Pitts Farms lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, in all too many instances, importation of these foreign workers has been to the extreme detriment of rural U.S. employees, many of whom are people of color,” the letter said. 

The labor department responded by touting their Pitts Farms investigation – the one Mississippi Today found only captured a two-year payroll audit. 

Walsh’s office has since announced plans to hold a roundtable discussion in Indianola.

“Equity is a critical issue for the department, and the Wage and Hour Division is firmly committed to working with our stakeholders on the ground to protect the most vulnerable workers,” a DOL spokesperson said in a statement.

On June 8, the agents who investigate farm wages and other violations held a seminar in the Delta to explain regulations and the audit process – like the one the Pitts went through – to farm owners.

Diamond, the director of the South African commerce office, says any farm or agency found breaking the rules is kicked out of their trade group. 

“There are bad actors out there,” he said. “We don’t have control over everyone, it’s a very large program, but we encourage farmers and workers to be fully compliant with the regulations.” 

These days, Richard Strong makes money cutting hair. His brother takes on odd mechanic jobs. 

One of the other men in the Pitts lawsuit, a truck driver in his 40s, now drives for Dollar General rather than transporting crops. It’s the first time in his adult life he’s had health insurance. 

Richard misses the tractor’s steady thrum. Sometimes, he closes his eyes and he’s back. He can see the controls in his head. 

He has a 15-year-old son, Amaureon, who wants to farm. The teen is drawn to the powerful machinery, the massive tractors, the combines – just like his dad. 

He’s in a farming program at school where he works hands-on with equipment. He takes pride in watching dirt and seeds become corn through his hard work.

“Farming is the one thing I’ve always loved,” he said.

He knows what his father has gone through. He knows it’s unfair. But he still wants to farm.

He watched a tractor rake through a field across the street from his home on a recent morning. He thought about owning acres of land. Maybe one day he could be his own boss. 

That way, he wouldn’t be at the whims of someone else.

Note: Mississippi Today reporter Alex Rozier contributed to this report.

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

Jackson celebrates Juneteenth weekend with many events.

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-06-17 12:24:27

Celebrations of the Juneteenth will be happening across Jackson this weekend, with multiple free events to take part in.

Juneteenth, sometimes known as Emancipation Day or Black , commemorates the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in the United States were freed. It was made a federal holiday last year.

“This is our independence day, the independence day of our…

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Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

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‘An attempted coup’: Rep. Bennie Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

The eyes of the world were on Rep. Bennie Thompson, the longtime congressman from Mississippi, on Thursday night as the special House committee he chairs held a prime-time hearing regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Thompson’s bipartisan committee began laying out a seven-point case Thursday night they say will show former ’s efforts to overturn his defeat and keep himself in office.

“Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy,” Thompson said. “And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The committee showed dramatic video of how the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, led the attack on the Capitol. They also heard the emotional testimony of a U.S. Capitol officer who suffered a brain injury during the attack.

“What I saw was a war scene,” said Caroline Edwards, one of the more than 150 officers injured in the rampage. “I saw officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up … I was slipping in people’s blood … it was carnage, it was chaos.”

Before the hearing — broadcast live on nearly every major American network with the exception of Fox — began, Thompson convened the meeting with a powerful speech.

Below is a transcript of his remarks.


“Thanks to everyone watching tonight for sharing part of your evening, to learn about the facts and causes of the events leading up to and including the violent attack on January 6th, 2021 — on our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

I am Bennie Thompson, chairman of the January 6, 2021, Committee. I was born, raised and still live in Bolton, Mississippi, a town with a population of 521, which is midway between Jackson and Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Mississippi River. 

I am from a part of the country where people justified the actions of , the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021. 

Over the next few weeks, hopefully you will get to know the other members, my colleagues up here, and me. We represent a diversity of communities from all over the United States — rural areas and cities — east coast, west coast, and the heartland. 

All of us have one thing in common: We swore the same oath. The same oath that all members of Congress take upon taking office and afterward every two years if they are reelected. We swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

The words of the current oath taken by all of us — that nearly every United States government employee takes — have their roots in the . Throughout our history, the United States has fought against foreign enemies to preserve our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

When the United States Capitol was stormed and burned in 1814, foreign enemies were responsible. Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, congresspersons and U.S. federal government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

That oath was put to the test on January 6, 2021. 

The police officers who held the line that day honored their oaths. Many came out of that day bloodied and broken. They still bear those wounds, visible and invisible. They did their duty. They repelled the mob and ended the occupation of the Capitol. They defended the Constitution against domestic enemies so that Congress could return, uphold our own oaths, and count your votes to ensure the transfer of power — just as we’ve done for hundreds of years. 

But unlike in 1814, it was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power. And they did so at the encouragement of the president of the United States. The president of the United States, trying to stop the transfer of power — a precedent that had stood for 220 years, even as our democracy has faced its most difficult tests. 

Thinking back again to the Civil War, in the summer of 1864, the president of the United States was staring down what he believed would be a doomed bid for reelection. He believed his opponent, General George McClellan, would wave the white when it came to preserving the Union. 

But even with that grim fate hanging in the balance, President Lincoln was ready to accept the will of the voters, come what may. He made a quiet pledge. He wrote down the words, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the president elect….” It will be my duty. 

Lincoln sealed that memo and asked his cabinet secretaries to sign it, sight unseen. He asked them to make the same commitment he did: to accept defeat if indeed defeat was the will of the people. To uphold the rule of law. To do what every other president who came before him did, and what every president who followed him would do. 

Until Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020. The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud. Don’t believe me? Hear what his former had to say about it, and I’ll warn those watching that this contains strong language. 

Bill Barr. On Election Day 2020, he was attorney general of the United States — the top law enforcement official in the country, telling the president exactly what he thought about claims of a stolen election.

Donald Trump had his days in court to challenge the results. He was within his rights to seek those judgments. In the United States, law-abiding citizens have those tools for pursuing justice. He lost in the courts just as he did at the ballot box. And in this country, that’s the end of the line. 

But for Donald Trump, that was only the beginning of what became a sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election, aimed at throwing out the votes of millions of Americans — your votes, your voice in our democracy — and replacing the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended. 

Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy. 

Any legal jargon you hear about “seditious conspiracy,” “obstruction of an official proceeding,” “conspiracy to defraud the United States” boils down to this: January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup. A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, “to overthrow the government.” 

The violence was no . It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. 

Now, you may hear those words and think, “This is just another political attack on Donald Trump by people who don’t like him.” That’s not the case. My colleagues and I all wanted an outside, independent commission to investigate January 6, similar to what we had after 9/11. 

But after first agreeing to the idea, Donald Trump’s allies in Congress put a stop to it. Apparently, they don’t want January 6 investigated at all. 

And, in the last 17 months, many of those same people have tried to whitewash what happened on January 6 — to rewrite history, call it a tourist visit, label it “legitimate political discourse.” 

Donald Trump and his followers have adopted the words of the songwriter: “Do you believe me or your lying eyes?”

We can’t sweep what happened under the rug. The American people deserve answers. 

So I come before you this evening not as a Democrat, but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t protect just Democrats or just Republicans. It protects all of us. “We the People.” 

And this scheme was an attempt to undermine the will of the people.”

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson, leading the public Jan. 6 hearings, has long worked to protect democracy

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

Reeves ignores racist history of state’s felony voting ban with vetoes

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Governor Tate Reeves delivers his State of the State address on the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday afternoon. Reeves spoke of a better Mississippi through better education, jobs and unity.

Reeves ignores racist history of state’s felony voting ban with vetoes

Gov. Tate Reeves has been vocal in his opposition to the teaching of and his support of the nation’s and state’s “patriotic” history.

Critical race theory, normally taught at the college level, explores the impact of race on various aspects of society. Opponents, though, say critical race theory is an effort to divide the country along racial lines. While opposing critical race theory, the Republican Reeves has long advocated for the teaching of “patriotic” history or history that portrays the state and nation in a positive light.

Reeves, a self-proclaimed “numbers guy” who worked in banking and finance before entering politics in his late 20s, offered a history lesson recently when vetoing a bill that would ensure people whose felony convictions were expunged would regain their right to vote.

“Felony disenfranchisement is an animating principle of the social contract at the heart of every great republic dating back to the founding of ancient Greece and Rome,” Reeves wrote in his veto message. “In America, such laws date back to the colonies and the eventual founding of our Republic. Since statehood, in one form or another, Mississippi law has recognized felony disenfranchisement.”

Granted, the loss of rights for those convicted of felonies was once common in America. But most states — at least 40 of them — now restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies at some point after they complete their sentence.

And perhaps people convicted of felonies in ancient Rome and Greece also lost their voting rights. Perhaps, a question for the governor is whether the slaves in ancient Rome and Greece could vote.

In Mississippi, the issue of felony disenfranchisement intersects with the state’s sordid history of and systematic racism. The narrative of the day made it clear that felony disenfranchisement was among a litany of provisions placed in Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution to keep African Americans from voting.

At the time, the said the disfranchisement of felons was an effort “to obstruct the exercise of the franchise by the negro race” by targeting “the offenses to which its weaker members were prone.” The provision’s intent was the same as the poll tax, the literacy test and other Jim Crow-era provisions that sought to prevent African Americans from voting.

Heck, murder and rape — the two crimes that would be disenfranchising if any were — were not listed in the 1890 Constitution as disenfranchising. They were added much later, in the 1960s.

While most states have moved on from lifetime bans on voting for people convicted of felonies, Mississippi holds tightly to the process placed in its 1890 Constitution. Under that process, a person either has to obtain a gubernatorial pardon or approval by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to regain the right to vote.

Because of that difficult process, Mississippi leads the nation in percentage of residents who have lost their right to vote. This past session, the Legislature passed bills restoring voting rights to only five Mississippians. Reeves opted not to sign those bills, instead allowing them to become law without his signature.

The bill Reeves did veto would have clarified that people whose felony convictions are expunged by a judge also would regain the right to vote. It should be pointed out only a limited number of crimes under specified conditions are eligible for expungement.

At any rate, some jurisdictions are restoring voting rights when crimes are expunged. Others are not. The bill was an attempt to clarify what many said was the Legislature’s intent — to restore voting rights when crimes were expunged.

But Reeves said to restore the rights, the state Constitution needs to be amended through first legislative action and then a vote of the people.

There are legal experts who agree with Reeves’ assessment that a change to the Constitution is needed to bypass the Legislature or a gubernatorial pardon to restore voting rights. Others do not believe a change to the Constitution is required to do so.

Still, Reeves used the occasion of the veto to brandish his version of history, which was absent the racial components surrounding Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement rules.

When the Legislature debated a bill that supporters said would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in Mississippi classrooms, some voiced concerns that passage of the anti-critical race theory bill would prevent the teaching of the impact of race on the state’s and nation’s history.

Supporters of the anti-critical race theory bill said it was not their intent to downplay the impact of race.

But Reeves, who signed the critical race theory bill and who touts the importance of teaching “patriotic” history, seems intent on ignoring the racial component of the state’s felony disenfranchisement provision.

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

Mississippi gov again proclaims Confederate Heritage Month

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www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-04-14 07:02:30

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

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…

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Sheriff: Rankin County Work-Release Program Is Not ‘Convict Leasing,’ A Vestige of Slavery | Jackson Free Press

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jacksonfreepress.com – Kayode Crown, Mississippi Free Press – 2022-03-28 14:05:43

Jessica Broughman entered Rankin County Detention Center in December 2018 on a methamphetamine sales charge. That would be her fourth felony charge, and she feared she would get a lengthy jail sentence.

“My parents have been taking care of my daughter (Aubrey) since she was 2 years old,” Broughman told the Mississippi Free Press about her now-10-year-old daughter Aubrey in a March…

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Von Gordon talks critical race theory

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‘Don’t be intimidated by the jargon’: Von Gordon talks critical race theory in Mississippi

Von Gordon

For much of the last two decades, Von Gordon has encouraged Mississippians to talk about race. As a student at the University of Mississippi, he helped organize the first Statewide Student Summit on Race. Gordon, 42, is now the executive director of the Alluvial Collective, formerly the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. The nonprofit aims to create stronger communities in Mississippi through educational events, like hosting seminars, assisting in oral histories, and mentoring high school students. 

This session, discussion of race and racism in Mississippi in K-12 school and university classrooms are coming under threat. Last week, the House passed Senate Bill 2113, which seeks to ban the teaching of in . Now, Gov. Tate Reeves is poised to sign the legislation, and educators across the state are anxiously waiting to see how it will impact their ability to teach about race and racism in Mississippi. 

The day after the House passed SB 2113 last week, Mississippi Today spoke with Gordon for “Mississippi in the Know,” a series of free breakfast conversations with policy experts. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed for length, Gordon talked about school desegregation in Mississippi and how that inspired Derrick Bell’s writings on critical race theory. 

Molly Minta: Derrick Bell is one of the founders of critical race theory, and he worked as a lawyer for the NAACP legal defense (fund), and he actually litigated a school desegregation case in Leake County. His experiences working on that case were really formative for the academic work he later did to develop critical race theory. I would love it if you could talk to us a little bit about his experiences. 

Von Gordon: There’s a definition that I’m really fond of. Lee Anne Bell describes it in a book about teaching for social justice, and she writes: “Critical race theory analyzes and challenges mainstream narratives in law, history, and popular culture that uphold the status quo.” And a big part of how they do that is through counter storytelling. 

I think it’s really important that Dr. Bell spent a lot of time here, and it was informative in how he thought about this theory. So he is already in Mississippi doing some work in the early 1960s. There’s an opportunity to help with the desegregation of Leake County schools

One of the interesting things is, there was a Rosenwald School already there that was of deep value to the community. It had served the community well, even in the context of gross underfunding and, frankly, gross segregation. So there was a need that the Black people in particular in that community had to have an equitable education experience. The Legislature could have fixed that, but it did not. 

There were people (in Leake County) who were concerned that by desegregating the schools, they might lose this really valuable asset that they had poured themselves into and that had produced a lot of opportunity for their children  — and actually (a lot of opportunity) for them. 

Now, one of the things I’ve learned about these communities — Harmony is one of them — is that they are really strong and resilient communities. We know in other parts of the country, strong communities like that got destroyed, whether you’re talking about Tulsa or Rosewood or others. The context really matters in that way. (Bell) recognizes that the law is really critical to desegregation, to unleashing the potential of being a citizen in the United States. 

When we think about what critical race theory seeks to do, it seeks to have a full examination of the impact of race in our society. And I think it’s been fun, and in some ways funny, to watch this conversation happen nationally, in part because in many ways it is detached both from the real impact of systemic racism, but also what it looks like in the communities where we live and work.

MM: Another tenant of critical race theory (is) this idea of “interests converging.” Could you talk to us a little bit about that, how we can understand that idea in Mississippi?

VG: Dr. Bell is one of the scholars who has written most about this. He talks specifically about some of the gains and how they were really made possible, not because there was this great awakening in the country that Black people or Native people needed their rights or they deserve their rights. That was a part of it, but it was also that it benefited white America too. 

For folks who are curious about the civil rights struggle of the sixties — when the president got involved most actively (in Birmingham), it was when the State Department and diplomats started to send back how what they were seeing on TV played across the globe. As the Cold War is emerging, we cannot project out equality and the dignity and respect of every human being, and here we have German shepherds biting our community’s babies. 

The passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Rights Act — based on Dr. Bell’s work — had as much to do with what benefited the whole as it did just the need to extend these rights, basically to live out our Constitution. I think that’s an important thing for us to consider. 

I’ve always been fascinated by debates about affirmative action. When I was in college and since, one of the things that I’ve always heard about affirmative action policies was that the biggest beneficiary of those policies were white women. And most of the data bears that out. But the burden of affirmative action and the stigma around it is typically born by Black people. 

I think we have to ask ourselves … Are we doing things for the right reason? Or doing things in the interest of equity and justice? Or are we doing them also because it’s in our self interest? 

There’s a windfall of infrastructure dollars, right, coming into the state. One of the things we know about infrastructure is, historically, where what got placed had an impact on the people living there. Most of the negative impact, particularly in our urban centers, are … born out by the black and brown people in those countries.

So are we thinking intentionally at our Department of Transportation about how this amount of infrastructure dollars are going to be spent? How are we thinking about equity, or are we only looking for where our interests converge?  

MM: When I was interviewing students in Mississippi’s only law school class on critical race theory, they were talking to me about how, on the one hand, the idea of interest convergence can seem a little like Machiavellian almost. It’s not these pure ideas of equality and justice that are leading to these social changes, but the economic or material realities of, how does this change benefit people who have power in society? There’s that more cynical interpretation, but there’s also a way of thinking about it where it can actually provide a roadmap for how to create change in society. 

VG: My friend and colleague now at the Alluvial Collective, Chauncey Spears, often talks about how we prepare ourselves and young people to be better citizens. One of the important things I think we have to do is let go of some fear so we can really do a deep and honest examination of who we are and how we show up in the world, and the institutions we’re part of and the systems that we encourage.

Think about where the fear is coming from, cause we’re seeing this with the whole CRT debate. It’s rooted in the fears around what young people are learning and what that might tell them about who we are — or make them question about who we are. 

I’ve worked with amazing young people for a long time. I’ve been in spaces where we’ve talked about the of Emmett Till, and the white students in the room have shared all of the emotions of guilt and shame and assume blame and a lot of other things, almost all of which are unhealthy when it comes to how we move forward. And I’ve had the experience of, Black kids, particularly Black males, 14 or 15, wondering about their own value. 

Critical race theory is just one of many different ways that we need to examine the impact of oppression in our society. It is one thing to think about where we want to go and how we get there. It’s another thing to do an examination about how we have destroyed human potential for generations. 

Von Gordon

A really good friend of mine said this about white kids learning about and feeling some kind of way – that parents should applaud their white child who comes home and is upset about slavery as white person, because it’s evidence that their child has a moral compass. When we think about the value of a moral compass for budding citizens, that’s a really important thing. And for a black child to learn that they do have value. What happened to Emmett Till is not something anyone deserved for any reason.

The complexities of how our young people are raised to explore our history, but also kind of draw from that (history) lessons for how they need to show up as citizens should really be at the heart of this, not our fears. 

MM: What you’re saying connects to what you talked about at the beginning of our conversation about an important aspect of critical race theory being counter-storytelling. … I’m wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit more about other examples of counter storytelling in Mississippi? 

VG: I’ll tell you, I remember talking to … my middle daughter. She was talking about Lewis and Clark and the expedition. She was so proud of what she learned. Her older sister asked her, ‘so tell me about the other people in that story? What do you know about them?’ 

There were Native people there, right? They’re just the backdrop. Not only is that disrespectful, it’s a really bad way for us to learn our history. If we polled our middle school students and asked them if the original people in Mississippi, if any of them are still in Mississippi? They would probably say no, they died a long, long time ago. But Chief (Cyrus) Ben is a steward of an incredible history and community that most of our young people don’t even know exists. 

In our work, first of all, we don’t go anywhere we’re not invited. When we get there, one of the first things we do is put people in circles, because circles are one of the oldest forms of community. 

We recognize that at the fundamental level, where people are living their lives, they need to have a couple of things happen. They need to be able to see each other fully. They need to be able to hear each other fully. And the one thing everybody in the circle is an expert in, is their stories.

It’s intimidating when you show up in a space, and you know there are people in there with expertise, and you don’t feel you have an expertise. But when you show up and all you have to do is tell your authentic stories, who you are and where you come from and what shaped you? And that’s all everybody else has a license to do? Then you get to know each other in a unique and different way. 

MM: When people are sharing their personal stories, what kind of questions do their community members tend to ask them? 

VG: One of the first things I always hear is shock. Like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know that about you.’ Or, ‘I had the same experience.’

Let me come back to the desegregation of schools in Mississippi. … When the schools in Mississippi were desegregated, that was an incredibly traumatic experience for everybody. Now, critical race theory will challenge you to examine who got the jobs at the newly integrated schools and who had to go find another line of work. But it was a deeply traumatic experience for everyone. And not many people have had the opportunity to tell those stories or share them with folks who might’ve been on the other side of that trauma. 

READ MORE: ‘Life is different here than it was when I grew up’: The legacy of school segregation in Yalobusha County

The assumption might be if you’re a white kid at Murrah that it was hard on you, cause you went home for Christmas and you come back and bam, bam, bam. Your world is turned upside down. You might think the brown kids who were going to your school benefited. All you can think about is the benefit that they were supposed to get from it — not recognizing that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they’re looking at a teacher wondering if that teacher has their best interest at heart, wondering if that teacher sees their humanity? 

Imagine the position at that point in time that a Black family who was already living on the margins, imagine how the power they felt — or did not feel — sending their kid into a newly integrated school, where they didn’t feel like anybody in that administration answered to them? 

Like that happened all over our state. Several people have said this to me over the years, particularly in Tupelo. They have this thing they call the Tupelo way. And one of the things they pride themselves in is the approach they took to desegregating their schools. Some real-meaning people brought the community together and said. ‘we’re going to make sure our public schools are our institutions.’ 

There can be a healthy debate about how they actually did that, or whether that’s really, really true. But you look at how those communities sit in Mississippi now, how they are thriving? There’s a direct correlation between the sense of leadership around doing as little harm as possible to other communities which embraced a different way of educating their young people. 

MM: I have just one last question … is there an aspect of the whole discourse and dialogue around critical race theory … that I haven’t asked or something you want to point out that you feel like people miss? 

VG: Critical race theory is just one of many different ways that we need to examine the impact of oppression in our society. It is one thing to think about where we want to go and how we get there. It’s another thing to do an examination about how we have destroyed human potential for generations. 

I can’t think of anybody I know who would read a book from beginning to end, from cover to cover, about critical race theory that would not come away with a sense of conviction about being better, about our need as society to be better.

We often say that previous generations did not know. One of the things that Dr. Kendi lays out really well in (Stamped from the Beginning) is, people knew, and we got the history that we have. People knew. We’re going to have to do better ourselves. 

In really personal ways, this exploration of who we are matters, and CRT is one among many, many others that we absolutely need to employ. Don’t be intimidated by the jargon. Don’t be intimidated by what the talking head on TV said about it. Get in there for yourself. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

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

Civil War museum provides insight into the North, South, slavery

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-02-03 21:00:12

A Vicksburg man’s goal to collect guns from the Civil War period grew into a larger project when he discovered a bill of sale for a 7-year-old girl.

Then, his goal became a quest to give people a comprehensive view of the era and enslaved people who were the central part of the conflict through his new Vicksburg Civil War Museum.

In his journey to collect guns, Charles Pendleton…

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How Black senators controlled the narrative on a historic day at the Capitol

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How Black senators controlled the narrative on a historic day at the Capitol

Note: This analysis first published in Mississippi Today’s weekly legislative newsletter. Subscribe to our free newsletter for exclusive early access to weekly analyses.

Sen. Derrick Simmons sensed his Black colleagues were growing more and more frustrated.

During Jan. 21 debate of a bill that seeks to ban the teaching of critical race theory, white senators were arguing that the existence of systemic racism was “a subjective myth.” They argued that Mississippi children should not be taught about how racism permeates society, that the teaching of racism was similar to the teachings of Karl Marx.

The personal, emotional pleas of Black senators during the debate were being ignored by their powerful white colleagues.

So Simmons, a Black man from the Mississippi Delta who serves as the Senate Democratic leader, hatched an idea. One by one, he approached the desks of his 13 Black colleagues and got their approval.

When the vote for final passage was called, Simmons stood up and requested a roll call vote. That meant instead of a typical voice vote, each senator would be called upon individually to vote yea or nay.

As the Senate clerk began calling the roll, all 14 Black senators stood up and walked off the floor. The decision by Black senators — all Democrats — to walk out ultimately meant nothing for the final outcome since Republicans alone have enough members to pass any bill they want. But the symbolism of their decision ran deep.

In the state with the most sordid and violent history of racism, Black lawmakers employed a principal strategy of the movement — organizing a walkout — to protest passage of a bill that threatened the teaching of that very history. 

It was an unprecedented moment in Mississippi history. In 1993, members left before then-Gov. Kirk Fordice delivered his State of the State speech in protest of his policies. But no Capitol observer can recall an instance of members walking out in protest before a vote on a bill.

“The greatness of America is the right to protest for what you think is right,” Simmons told Mississippi Today. “Together we believed that this was the right thing to do, to walk out. So that’s what we did. We decided that nonsense wasn’t worth our votes.”

READ MORE: Every Black Mississippi senator walked out as white colleagues voted to ban critical race theory

One great irony: It could’ve been a historic day for such different reasons.

A few minutes after the critical race theory bill passed, the Senate passed what would be the largest pay raise for public school teachers in decades — a critical moment for the nation’s lowest-paid educators.

The teacher pay plan was Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s top legislative priority in 2022, one he and his staff had worked on for months. Hosemann, who did not preside over the debate of either bill on Friday, sent a press release following the eventful day touting passage of that bill.

But Hosemann garnered few accolades about his teacher pay plan on Friday because the Black senators had complete control of the narrative of the day.

They owned the headlines across Mississippi, and television stations across the state led with B-roll of their walkout on primetime . The walkout went national and international. Simmons appeared Saturday on MSNBC to discuss the implications of the bill and the historic decision by Black lawmakers to skip the vote.

“The people who threw rocks at Ruby Bridges for trying to go to school are now upset that their grandchildren might learn that they threw rocks at Ruby Bridges for trying to go to school,” Simmons said. “To improve Mississippi and America, the truth must be told. White children, Black children, my children, your children should hear the history of , the civil rights movement, the uncontrolled killing of Black Americans. They should hear that history and decide they want to make Mississippi a better place together.”

Simmons continued: “Racism is part of our history. We have to acknowledge it exists, and we have to talk about it.”

Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton during floor action in Senate chambers Jan. 31, 2018, at the Capitol in Jackson.

Several Black senators went to the well before the final vote, laying out clearly where they stood on the bill and what they thought of its passing.

“There are 14 Black senators in this chamber, and these 14 are telling you that this bill is morally wrong,” said Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton. “Yet you ignore the thoughts, positions of these 14 members of this body. So it must be something if all 14 of us feel or think that something is wrong with this bill.”

Perhaps the most powerful plea made from the floor was from Sen. David Jordan, a freedom fighter during the movement. The 88-year-old Jordan taught for 33 years in Mississippi — and 20 of them in integrated public schools.

As Jordan put it, many white Mississippians didn’t want him teaching their children. But he taught them the way he’d taught all his students: by providing facts, science and truth.

“It’s sad we’ve wasted so much time on something that’s not necessary,” Jordan said from the floor before the vote. “Mississippi has come a long way together. If anybody has suffered from racism, it’s people of color. We feel that we don’t need this bill. We are satisfied without it; what do you need it for? We have been the victims of it (racism). We cannot continue, Christian friends, stumbling into the future backwards. That’s what this bill does for us. We have more important things to do. We need to show more cohesiveness and progress.”

State of play and what to watch for:

1) The consideration of critical race theory legislation stands to jeopardize relationships between white and Black legislative leaders.

In the Blackest state in America, where a major constituency is often ignored or left behind by policy passed in Jackson, these relationships are a very big deal. Black leaders have continued to project good will toward white leaders following the June 2020 state change. After decades of effort from Black lawmakers, white leaders finally chose to work with their Black colleagues to change the flag, the last in the nation featuring the battle emblem.

“You couldn’t help but to feel good after what we did together in June 2020,” Simmons said. “You had this mindset as a Mississippian that we can move forward in a spirit of being inclusive, not exclusive. And then here we are less than two years later, we allow what goes on in the nation (critical race theory debate) to come into the state to divide us. We had so much hope and optimism after the flag. But on Friday, you almost feel completely deflated.”

2) What will the House do?

The Senate critical race theory bill was relatively mild to legislation proposed in other states. And the House is led by Speaker Philip Gunn, who has made his intention to address critical race theory very well known. Will the House bill be more restrictive in terms of what Mississippi teachers can or can’t teach? Having seen the broad public outcry from the Senate vote, will House leaders accept the Senate version and move on to other issues?

Black caucus members in the House have a big head start now to prepare for how they’ll respond to whatever happens. The debate will almost certainly be more dramatic in the House, where pretty much everything is more dramatic.

3) Is this all worth it? 

This push to ban critical race theory is rooted in national political rhetoric — a red meat issue pushed by out-of-state interest groups. Republican Sen. Mike McLendon, the bill’s author who defended it on the floor last week, said himself that his constituents pushed the issue based on what they saw on Fox News. McLendon nor any other politician can point to a single instance of critical race theory being taught in the state — a fact confirmed by state education officials.

White Republicans are pushing this bill knowing definitively that it will hurt their relationships with Black colleagues and their Black constituents. That harm cuts deep, and it will linger for a long time. In November 2023, when those Republican lawmakers are running for reelection, will their constituents remember or even care about this hot-button issue that’s gotten play on Fox News in recent weeks?

4) Mississippi teachers are, once again, caught in the middle of a major political fight at the Capitol.

Another great irony of all this is white legislative leaders are simultaneously pushing massive pay raise proposals for teachers while effectively telling them what they can and cannot teach. That reality could stand to further sow distrust of lawmakers among educators, who already deeply distrust lawmakers. 

There are more than 30,000 educators (plus their families and loved ones) in Mississippi. That’s a major bloc that could remember all this when legislative and statewide elections come up in 2023.

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

Mississippi

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Biloxi - Local News Feed Images 012

In 1817, Mississippi became the 20th state of the Union. The name of the river comprising the state border in the west was adopted as the state’s name. The first permanent settlement by European settlers was established by the French in 1699, but the Spanish explorers first ventured here over 150 years before that. The area had a significant Native American population at that time. Prior to the , Mississippi was the leading producer of cotton in this part of the world.

Key Takeaways:

  • During the early days of Mississippi, it was the largest producer of cotton in the early 19th century.
  • Racism was still in existence even after ended in the early twentieth century.
  • a fun fact about this area was the first person to create the dollar sign by an Irish merchant in New Orleans.

“Spanish explorers arrived in the region in 1540 but it was the French who established the first permanent settlement in present-day Mississippi in 1699. During the first half of the 19th century, Mississippi was the top cotton producer in the United States, and owners of large plantations depended on the labor of black slaves.”

Read more: https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/mississippi

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