Writing in The New York Times May 13, columnist Bob Herbert described coming to Mississippi as descending into “…a lower place, a world of fanatical race hatred in which blacks were condemned by whites to a perpetual state of humiliation and often gruesome suffering.”
Herbert visited Tunica County because he thinks that “…something strange is going on.” He is troubled because of a new $8-million school that might be built in Robinsonville. Herbert thinks it is part of a grand conspiracy conceived by “the movers and shakers at the local, county and state levels” to create “…a prosperous, largely white town in an overwhelmingly black county that has always exploited its majority population.”
Herbert ends his rambling, acid-penned tirade simply: “Welcome to Mississippi.” Welcome to Mississippi.
Herbert’s trite, tired, stereotypical analysis of life in Mississippi is what we have come to expect from outsiders who base their opinions about the state and the greater South on preconceived images that long ago faded away. Are there problems of race, disparity and exclusion in Mississippi? Certainly but these problems plague New York, California, Illinois — and just about every other state. At least in Mississippi, we are working together to move our state forward. For Bob Herbert to dismiss the progress we’ve made in Mississippi because of his memories of, admittedly, a bloody, hateful history, is not right.
In a response to Herbert’s editorial invective, Jimmy Heidel and Company at the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development responded with a poignant reminder of how far Mississippi, especially Tunica County, has come. He wrote of new investment, new jobs and new opportunities that have lifted the state from the rock bottom of many economic indicator lists. He mentioned how the state is moving ahead on education issues like literacy, high school graduation rates and college attendance. But it was Heidel’s personal account of where Mississippi is that hit home the hardest.
“The short story is that this state — which gave the world Elvis, Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Willie Morris, Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Freeman, Tennessee Williams, James Earl Jones, Leontyne Price, Bo Diddly, B.B. King and Muddy Waters — also gave the world the first heart and lung transplants,” Heidel wrote. “This is the Mississippi I grew up to love and respect. Our diversity, culture, entrepreneurial spirit, writers, musicians, artists and their legacies — even our newfound strength in gaming and entertainment — are all part of modern-day Mississippi. This is the Mississippi we see when we drive to our jobs everyday.”
Welcome to the real Mississippi, Mr. Herbert.