Category: Mississippi

Smothering the New America in the cradle: Chris McDaniel and the spirit of Tea Party conservatism

Chris McDaniel
Chris McDaniel

By Alan Bean

Chris McDaniel, a Mississippi Tea Party candidate vying for Thad Cochran’s senate seat, wants to turn back the hands of time.

“There are millions of us who feel like strangers in this land, an older America passing away, a new America rising to take its place,” McDaniel said this past week. “We recoil from that culture. It’s foreign to us. It’s alien to us. … It’s time to stand and fight. It’s time to defend our way of life again.”

This revealing remark is the frontispiece for an AP story that was picked up by the Huffington Post and, suggesting that conservatives and liberals attach significance to McDaniel’s words, though for different reasons.

We often distinguish liberals from conservatives using an economic metric: liberals think capitalism works best when checked by government regulation supplemented by public projects and a robust social safety net; conservatives think capitalism works best without regulation and see unrestricted free markets as want to privatize every public initiative, with the partial exception of the military.

On the surface, Chris McDaniel’s rhetoric fits this pattern.  He says the government has no constitutional right to educate the nation’s children.  On the stump, he sounds like a typical small government, low tax conservative.

But there is more to the Tea Party phenomenon than low tax-small government conservatism. (more…)

Latest outrage at Ole Miss points to a deeper distress

By Alan Bean

The University of Mississippi just can’t outrun its association with bigotry.

In 2012, a crowd of angry white students expressed their displeasure in the wake of Barack Obama’s re-election.

And just last week, a small group of freshmen wrapped an old Georgia flag bearing the Confederate stars and bars around the statue of James Meredith, the man who integrated “Ole Miss” in 1962.  In case somebody didn’t catch the symbolism, the students then wrapped a noose around the statue’s neck.

None of this bears a passing resemblance to the massive riots sparked by Mr. Meredith’s arrival on campus in 1962 that left two people dead.  But the mix of sophomoric immaturity, alcohol and Old South pride can still be toxic.  According to a CNN story, Kiesha Reeves, a black Ole Miss Senior, told police that, days after the statue incident, someone in a passing car carrying several white students threw alcohol on her and shouted a racial slur.

Mississippi, and its flagship university, have come a long way in the past 52 years; but Old South bigotry continues to smolder, largely because the folks in charge of institutions like Ole Miss routinely fail to denounce the hate with sufficient sincerity.  Everybody knows that racial resentment, in various degrees, continues to stalk the campus and that a small but significant minority of the white student body is working hard to keep the spirit of ’62 alive.  So, what can you do but make the best of a bad situation.  After all, things aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be.

Recent reports suggest that federal charges may be filed against the alleged perpetrators.  Is that really the answer?  If these students are a symptom of a larger social malady, (and they are), sending them to prison for six months or a year will simply create a scapegoat and sweep the nasty business under the rug yet again.

The problem here isn’t overt racial hatred.  The kids who defaced the Meredith statue may have black friends for all I know.

These kids just don’t want to let go of the Southern pride they imbibed with their mother’s milk.

They want to feel good about being white southerners.

They don’t want to reckon with the past or chart a fresh course.   (more…)

Mississippi church issues apology for racism

Two Mississippi pastors, Eric Hankins (left) and Andrew Robinson, have fostered healing between their churches in Oxford, a city that faced racial tumult during the civil rights era. Hankins is pastor of First Baptist Church; Robinson is pastor of Second Baptist Church. Photo by Kevin Bain.

By Alan Bean

It is easy to be critical of this Baptist Press story.  It reflects a rather superficial understanding of racism, and is written from a distinctly white perspective (there is little interest, for instance, in learning how Black Baptists experienced the racist past of Oxford, Mississippi).

On the other hand, the apology issued by First Baptist Church is commendable and remarkably rare.  Although the congregation voted to exclude non-white worshipers in 1968, pastor Hankins correctly observes that most Oxford congregations wouldn’t have felt the need to put the matter to a vote.  This is a small step in the direction of racial reconciliation, but it is a beginning, and for that we should all be thankful.

Mississippi church seeks racial reconciliation

OXFORD, Miss. (BP) — When First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., passed a resolution apologizing for its 1968 decision to exclude African Americans from worship services, it opened the door for racial reconciliation in its city.

“I had never seen a church or any organization move that seriously toward repentance and then apologize without any excuse,” said Andrew Robinson, pastor of Oxford’s historically black Second Baptist Church, a National Baptist congregation that accepted the apology and granted forgiveness. (more…)

Three amazing stories reveal the rich contradictions of Mississippi

Chockwe Lumumba
Will Campbell
Paul Alexander

By Alan Bean

Three Mississippi stories grabbed my attention this week.  Will Campbell, the white civil rights activist and renegade Baptist preacher from Mississippi, died this week after a long and painful decline.  Chockwe Lumumba, the erstwhile Black nationalist attorney, was elected as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.  Finally, Paul Alexander, the former TIME reporter who has written for The New York Times, the Nation, Salon, the Daily Beast, Paris Match and the Guardian, will soon be releasing Mistried an eBook on the bizarre railroading of Curtis Flowers in Winona, Mississippi.

Taken together, these stories capture the rich contradictions of the Magnolia State.  Campbell and Lumumba represent opposite poles of the civil rights movement.  Lumumba ran for mayor of Jackson as a centrist candidate who cares about economic development and job creation as much as civil rights; but there was a time when the lawyer-politician was so disillusioned with White America that he advocated the creation of a separate, predominantly Black, nation in the Southeastern United States.

Campbell, by contrast, insisted that God’s grace was offered to the Klansman as well as the oppressed.  “Mr. Jesus died for the bigots as well,” he famously said.  Acting on this belief, Campbell regularly engaged with violent white segregationists over a glass of whiskey. (more…)

The “unbelievable brutality” at Walnut Grove

Michael McIntosh

In 2010, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit against GEO Group when reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility located near Jackson, Mississippi.  Earlier this year, a settlement in the case required the state of Mississippi to remove all youth from the Walnut Grove facility. 

Unfortunately, the damage was already done.

One of the kids at the facility, Mike, suffered from severe brain damage from youth-on-youth violence incited by a prison guard.  Dozens of other kids at the facility were also severely injured.  Last fall, Friends of Justice had the opportunity to meet with Mike’s father, Michael McIntosh, during a trip to Mississippi.  He told us the tragic story of his son’s experience at Walnut Grove.  You can read more about Mike’s story in the article below.  MWN

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons

By Booth Gunter

Michael McIntosh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had come to visit his son at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility near Jackson, Miss., only to be turned away. His son wasn’t there.

“I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”

Thus began a search for his son Mike that lasted more than six weeks. Desperate for answers, he repeatedly called the prison and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. “I was running out of options. Nobody would give me an answer, from the warden all the way to the commissioner.”

Finally, a nurse at the prison gave him a clue: Check the area hospitals. (more…)

“Brooker’s Place” opens a window on Mississippi civil rights history

By Alan Bean

Those who felt “The Help” whitewashed the social realities of civil rights-era Mississippi will welcome “Booker’s Place” a new film that debuted on the film festival circuit over the weekend. 

In 1966, Booker Wright was a waiter at Lusco’s, a restaurant in Greenwood, Mississippi with an all-white clientele.  This brief quotation from theNew York Times gets to the heart of the matter:

His feat: He dropped his mask of servility in a 1966 television documentary about the state, admitting that he was “crying on the inside” as he kowtowed to customers who sometimes denied him tips and uttered racial slurs. “The meaner the man be, the more you smile,” he explains.

Booker Wright stood on the sidelines during the Greenwood Movement in 1962-63, but he spoke out when he had the opportunity, and paid dearly for it. 

Hodding CarterIII, the journalist and former member of the Carter administration, grew up and worked in Greenville, Miss., and said his first reaction upon seeing the documentary was that Mr. Wright was a dead man.

“In one person, in one interview, in one place, you have personified what it was black Mississippi was saying to white Mississippi after all these years,” he says in “Booker’s Place.”

The words uttered by Mr. Wright in that NBC broadcast led to a beating by a local police officer. He lost his waiter’s job at Lusco’s, which he had held since he was 14. His own restaurant was vandalized.

A beloved and respected figure in a town that was a major center for the segregationist Citizens’ Council, he reopened Booker’s Place and bought a school bus to transport children in the Head Start program. He was shot to death by a black customer in his restaurant in 1973, which raised some conspiracy theories.

How could such an innocuous comment spark consequences this dire?  If you have to ask the question you don’t know much about the social world of Mississippi during this period.  “The Help” was set in Jackson, MS, but was largely filmed in Greenwood, a town that has changed very little since the mid-60s.  If this project makes it to mainstream theaters I will be the first in line at the ticket window. 


Private prison group ends contracts with Mississippi

In the wake of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional facility scandal, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) announced that GEO Group — one of the largest private prison corporations in the U.S. — will no longer operate three correctional facilities in the state.  By July 20, the corporation will no longer manage the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional, East Mississippi Correctional, or the Marshall County Correctional facilities.

In 2010, reports emerged of sexual abuse, improper medical care, extended prisoner isolation, and violence among inmates at the Walnut Grove facility.  These reports sparked a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The lawsuit resulted in the removal of youth from the Walnut Grove facility. According to the Associated Press, MDOC also had concerns about incidents that occurred at the other GEO Group facilities in the state.

This could be an opportunity for MDOC to re-think its practice of contracting with private prison corporations.  Unfortunately, it may be a lost opportunity.  It seems that Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps is still interested in privatization.  Epps told the Associated Press that MDOC is “reaching out to those private operators” in their search for new groups to manage the three facilities.  See the article below for more details.  -MWN

Florida group to end Miss. prison contracts


JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Department of Corrections says GEO Group Inc., one of the country’s largest private prison operators, will no longer manage three facilities in Mississippi.

On Thursday, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company said it was backing out of a contract to manage the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near the Lost Gap community by July 19. Company officials told The Associated Press on Friday that it had nothing else to say.

Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps told the AP on Friday that the department felt it might get a better price if all three prisons were presented as a package to other corrections management companies.

Epps said he would expect GEO Group to end its ties to the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove and Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs by July 20.

“We feel this may be a golden opportunity to provide a better price for the taxpayers of the state and at the same time maybe do a better job in the operation of the facilities,” Epps said. “That’s what I would like to see.” (more…)

“The undignified don’t deserve dignity”: Mississippi’s first hate criminal goes to prison

Two weeks ago, a white high school student named Deryl Dedmon pled guilty to the murder of James Anderson, a black man.  Dedmon dodged the death penalty by admitting that the crime was racially motivated.  In so doing, he became Mississippi’s first hate criminal.

Two accomplices, John Aaron Rice and Dylan Butler, also admitted their involvement in the racially-motivated murder.

Newsweeks Tony Dokoupil traveled to Mississippi to find out what Deryl Dedmon, the young man behind the wheel of the Jeep Cherokee, meant when he admitted to being “young and dumb, ignorant and full of hatred.”

“What I discovered,” Dokoupil reports, “was deeper, scarier, and more complex than a single country boy gone bad or even simple, pre-civil-rights-era racism.”

Dedmon’s friends don’t see him as a racist and don’t think the murder should be classified as a hate crime.  Even more disturbing, from the writer’s perspective, many of their black friends seemed to agree.

The kids in Dedmon’s social circle don’t think they’re racist at all. Sure, many use the N word, sometimes even in anger. But they say they don’t mean it in a racist way, any more than the town’s monument to the Confederate dead is meant as a call to arms. “It’s heritage, not hate,” says Trevor, echoing a common defense of Southern pride. The trips to west Jackson, he and others believe, were driven by social status—reveling in the lawlessness of poor neighborhoods—not skin color.

The article published in Newsweek and on the web in The DailyBeast, represents the most in-depth analysis of this tortured tale to appear thus far.  It will come as no surprise that the murder of James Anderson was the culmination of a long series of trips from predominantly white Rankin County to the poor black neighborhoods of nearby Jackson.  Unlike the black friends the white defendants knew from school, the denizens of West Jackson were regarded by Dedmon and his friends as the semi-human citizens of a Third World country.  It was okay to threaten, attack, beat and eventually kill people in poor black neighborhoods because, well, they’re niggers.

But our black friends back in Rankin County, well, they’re okay.

 In the version told by Dedmon’s social circle, racial hatred did not bring them to Jackson so much as boredom and drunken teenage aggression, mingled with a kind of moral outrage at the shabbiness of life in the Metro Inn area. Yes, the people there are almost all black, and the white teens call them “niggers.” But that has more to do with their status than their skin; the undignified don’t deserve dignity, they say. “White, black, red, or yellow,” says the Bunyanesque friend from the car wash, who did not go to Jackson that night, “what I’m prejudiced against is stupidity. I don’t like stupid people.”

If you hate black people because of their color, you’re racist; if you hate poor, inebriated black people because you have contempt for their lifestyle, that’s just being a decent American.

This is what happens when centuries of slavery and Jim Crow oppression empty into half a century of silence.  Until the early 1970s, the official position in the state of Mississippi was pure, unfiltered white supremacy.  By the late 70s the subject of race was off the table.  You could spout the old line behind closed doors, but in the public arena the past wasn’t mentioned.  Until recently, Mississippi school children weren’t even taught that there was a civil rights movement.

Confused white males like Deryl Dedmon were left to figure things out for themselves.  Dedmon’s behavior was unusual, to be sure, but the sentiments voiced by his friends, black and white, are standard issue.

That’s why I call my book, Taking out the Trash in Tulia, Texas.  So long as the defendants in the Texas Panhandle town I called home for nine years were sufficiently “trashy”, constitutional protections and the canons of common sense didn’t apply.  The war on drugs is rooted in the same principle.

Tony Dokoupil’s five-page article can be found here.  Highly recommended.