By Kamau Franklin
Mississippi is the poorest state in the union, and the state with the highest percentage of people with African ancestry. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But the list of things the magnolia state is first and nearly first in, apart from balmy weather, is not a good one.
Mississippi Finally Ratifies the 13thAmendment. Here Are Some Other Things Mississippi Decided To Ratify First.
By Kamau Franklin
After 148 years Mississippi has “officially” abolished slavery by ratifying the 13th amendment. We can assume that what took policymakers so long was the historical and present day desire to make sure white privilege was so ingrained that formal slavery was no longer needed. Mississippi policy makers, the moneyed elite and at the time the vast majority of its minority white population were all in agreement on how to proceed in this important task. The historic sequence of outright terror and new systems of servitude launched against the Black population included mass killings, lynchings, rape, sharecropping, prison labor and forced flight that decreased the majority Black population of Mississippi to a minority. This all sufficed in ratifying a political economy of white dominance well in place through the 1950 and 60s. Even after the civil rights and black power movements killed off the last of de jure segregation in Mississippi a new consensual de facto supremacist system still rules. This system embraced by far too many of Mississippi’s now majority white population, its policy makers, moneyed white leaders and now quietly endorsed by the Magnolia’s State new Black elite.
One example of the current ratified behavior is the prison system. Mass incarceration was created to ensure continued peonage for Mississippi plantation owners. It has continued today where Mississippi now has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, with over 75% of those imprisoned being black and still providing cheap labor. An added benefit of course is that after having to give up on poll taxes and grandfather clauses to suppress voting rights, the state is still successfully disenfranchising 14% of its Black population from voting through felony disenfranchisement laws . This is done without much of a stir from elected Black politicians who don’t want to look soft on crime and from Black elites who actual enjoy having access to free labor for their own events.
Poverty has also been ratified in Mississippi as a major national study ranked Mississippi lowest in overall human development and among the four states with the largest disparities between whites and blacks. The study found that black Mississippians, who make up close to 40% of the population, are worse off than blacks in most other states in the nation, ranking second to last on the health and income index (just ahead of Louisiana) and last in education. A black male born in Mississippi in 2010 can expect a shorter life span than the average American in 1960. The ranges of earnings for whites are nearly double that of blacks. Again no movement has emerged to shift resources to the Black community.
In the capital city of Jackson, a majority Black city, these race and class disparities are painfully evident. Blacks make up approximately 75% of the city’s population but are 90% of the its poor. On average, black families in Jackson earn 40% less in annual income than whites. The black unemployment rate is double the rate of whites, and the recent economic downturn has left many once thriving black families with very little disposable income.
The city itself has been led by Black mayors since 1997 and the state is 40% Black however the entrenched and ratified conservative policies of the state benefit developers, business elites and state workers who work in Jackson but live outside of it. The recently constituted black elite includes elected officials, ministers, non-profit and community “leaders” who offer no effective progressive to militant counter weight to organized conservative policies. Insider conversations seem to be the tactic of the day. The fight for worker rights, for criminal justice system reforms or for redirection of public spending on infrastructure is fought more through lobbying efforts than building a critical mass of people to challenge conservative orthodoxy. Mississippi law makers and the privileged elite in 1865 could not have hoped for a better result. Officially ratified or not the 13th Amendment has not shown itself to be more durable than the power of white supremacy.
Kamau Franklin is an attorney in Mississippi, and part of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He maintains a frequently updated blog, Grassroots Thinking, which you can find here. Reach him at kamauadeabiodun(at)yahoo.com