There are actually a lot of good things to say about Mississippi, and I don’t mean just Elvis Presley, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty. There are a lot of awfully nice people. There are the magnolias. There is the Reverend M.C. Thompson, Jr., pastor of the Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi — a church that was burned by Klansmen in the summer of 1964 and then rebuilt — whose singing could make anyone a Baptist. And there are the good race relations in the state, arguably among the best in the nation.
I was in Mississippi for a brief part of Jesse Jackson’s 8-day statewide bus tour. The service at Mt. Nebo was to commemorate the deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, the three young men (two white, one black) murdered that summer as they joined 1,000 students in trying to register blacks to vote.
It is Reverend Jackson’s view that it’s no longer about race in Mississippi. The good people of that state get along just fine, for the most part. It’s about economics. And that affects both blacks and whites.
Did you know that Mississippi is last in education — 49th or 50th — but that its powerful senator, Trent Lott, thwarts legislation that would help build and modernize Mississippi schools and fund more Mississippi teachers? That it’s the poorest state in the nation, but that Senator Lott opposed the hike in the minimum wage from $4.25 to $5.15 and opposed hikes in the earned-income tax credit for the working poor? (Mississippi does have a spectacular new air conditioned ultra-modern prison in Yazoo City — about the best prison facility money can buy — so you can’t accuse the state’s leaders of doing nothing for the people.) The good senator has every right to oppose these things and the Family Leave Act and all the rest. He has every right to associate with the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (the CCC), a group that even the John Birch Society has disavowed, and to write articles for its newsletter. But it was Reverend Jackson’s point that the good people of Mississippi have every right not to reelect him.