understand that several Republican governors, such as Haley Barbour
of Mississippi, are considering refusing money from
the Stimulus package. Well, at this writing I am in the Mississippi
Delta on a poverty tour arranged by Antionette Harrell, a courageous
African American woman from New Orleans and what we are seeing definitely
marks such actions as cruel at most and unaccountable at least to
the needs of most people living in the most vicious form of abject
Mardi Gras weekend began, we boarded vans and traveled Route 55
out of New Orleans into small towns and communities of black people in Quitman
and Washington Counties in Mississippi, in
places like Marks, Lambert and Glen Allan. For example, in Lambert,
a community of 1,700, we found many people experiencing grinding
poverty - living in ramshackle houses built nearly a century ago,
with rampant unemployment, scores of young people with nothing to
do but make babies, trash and stripped cars all over the place,
people with serious health needs, cut off from mainstream services
for the lack of public transportation.
nearly 100 people assembled at a food pantry. Some said they had
to drive 100 miles to see a doctor and nearly the same distance
to shop for food. We found that although Ms. Harrell gave away 60
bags of clothing while we were there, the pantry was running low
on food. Although the local mayor said the “people wanted to live
that way,” in a dramatic moment of repudiation at the food pantry,
people were asked what they wanted. They launched into a chorus
of, “jobs, jobs, library, decent houses, food, transportation, health
services!” In other words, people had gross needs that were not
being served by state, county and local leaders.
communities were formed by exclusion and isolation. They are those
left behind when so many left the South and King Cotton became mechanized
and made their labor useless. Many are the grandsons and granddaughters
of people who had been slaves in the 19th century and sons and daughters
of many who had been sharecroppers - who are really slaves in the
20th century - have lost hope of finding their own way out. There
are communities that experience structural exclusion dotted all
over the Delta.
poverty is not merely that shaped by the lack of money, but a poverty
of the spirit shaped by the oppressive forces that have robbed them
of hope, such that many cannot conceive of leaving or don’t know
how to manage the transition to a new reality of living. They do
not fit the model of Harriet Tubman, they fit her model of those
who do not yet fully know they are free. We found only one person
among those poor who had access to a computer for the information
already suffer from a local leadership that is often dismissive,
that holds the same negative stereotypes about poor blacks as their
overlords In fact, many of these local black leaders are ministers,
who are linked to the white power structure that administers a modern
brutal oppression of neglect and rejection of services, part of
the chain of oppression, that begins with the political decisions
of leaders at the top, to ignore their condition.
for these leaders at the top - governors - who are concerned that
they might have to continue funding unemployment benefits for such
people when the Stimulus money runs out, they are balking. They
could end up withholding the finds that could provide job training,
decent housing and services to these locked out families and individuals,
pushing them further into the drug culture and depravity that now
has them in its grips.
we read of the long lines of newly poor, many of them middle class
people who are casualties caught in the current economic crisis,
we see billions of dollars being directed toward them for jobs,
job training unemployment assistance, displaced workers funds, housing
programs and the like. But
the people we are seeing in the Mississippi Delta have been kept
in the shadows by their politicians while millions of dollars is
still being made on cotton by agribusiness farmers and the new catfish
farms, while their communities continue to suffer.
wonder to what extent Barack Obama will find a way around the governors,
directing money into these desperate communities to reach them.
I wonder whether the focus on poverty in the White House Office
on Urban Policy will only care for those in the metro areas of the
country and not reach out into the people hidden in neglected communities,
behind acres and acres of cotton. We went into Marks, Mississippi
and there on one corner was a billboard showing the spot where Dr.
Martin Luther King’s staff began the Mule Train to Washington,
DC in April of 1968 to dramatize the plight
of the poor, a project he began before he was assassinated.
needs to be a new Poor Peoples’ March today while the attention
of the nation is being socialized to the damages that can result
from an unregulated economy. But this time, it should deal with
those who have been ravaged for decades with no one coming to their
aid because those in power were allied with their oppressors.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar,
Director of the African American Leadership Center and Professor
of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College
Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (The Politics of Race
and Ethnicity) (Rowman and Littlefield). Click here
to contact Dr. Walters.