Mississippi is “the Magnolia State” where Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old African American boy, was abducted, tortured and lynched in August 1955.
Mississippi is where Medgar Evers was murdered June 12, 1963.
Mississippi is where three civil rights activists — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner — were abducted and murdered in Neshoba County in June 1964.
In September 2022, there is no clean running water for humans or animals in Jackson, the state capital. Think about what that means.
There is no clean running water for residents.
There is no clean running water for tourists.
There is no clean running water for hotels.
There is no clean running water for schools.
There is no clean running water for hospitals (delivery rooms, surgery suites, intensive care units, cafeterias, restrooms, morgues), nursing homes or other care facilities.
There is no clean running water for restaurants, bars, churches, physicians, lawyers, bakers, mechanics, firefighters, funeral homes, newspapers or any other establishments.
Tate Reeves is governor of Mississippi. Delbert Hosemann, the lieutenant governor, is president of the Mississippi Senate. Phillip Gunn is speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives.
Mississippi has a state budget surplus of more than $2 billion but no clean running water in its capital city. Yet Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn have not publicly called for a special session of the state legislature to appropriate funds to fix the Jackson water treatment infrastructure.
Reeves, Hosemann and Gunn are white men.
Chokwe Lumumba is mayor of Jackson. Marlin King is director of public works for Jackson. Here is a link to the agenda for the Sept. 1 special meeting of the Jackson City Council. The water crisis issue is not on the agenda.
Lumumba and King are Black men.
The situation is a classic example of what South African liberation theologian Allan Aubrey Boesak described in a book titled Pharaohs on Both Sides of the Blood Red Waters, a title Boesak chose based on the words of 19th century Black Presbyterian minister, abolitionist and justice advocate Henry Highland Garnet. Reeves (the white pharaoh) and Lumumba (the Black pharaoh) are separately making the 180,000 residents of Jackson suffer.
Given the history of white supremacy, cultural incompetence and distrust between white and Black people in Mississippi, we should not be surprised that white leaders and Black leaders in Jackson are not working together to save the people of Jackson from disease, distress and possible deaths due to lack of clean running water.
Mississippi is full of religious people. Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. (the largest Black religious denomination in the United States) lives and leads a congregation in Jackson. The “Bible believing, Bible teaching” Southern Baptists of Mississippi are no doubt proud of Gov. Reeves, a United Methodist. Since Young and Reeves lead so many Black and white Christians, why have Mississippi Baptists failed to fix the water situation in Jackson?
“People in Jackson are not looking for someone to turn water to wine.”
People in Jackson are not looking for someone to turn water to wine. They need decent water! Religion that will not inspire people to care enough about one another to provide decent water is worthless, whether the people preaching, teaching, singing and claiming to practice and spread it are white religious nationalists or Black colonized pietists.
Message to Mississippi “Bible believing, Bible teaching” Baptists: What makes your claims about missions and evangelism worth believing when you won’t even work together to ensure safe water for every person and creature in your state?
When will you repent for claiming to be followers of the religion of the Jesus you sing, preach and teach about?
Have you no shame at this latest proof of your longstanding hypocrisy?
Now the lies Mississippians have told themselves and the rest of the world about making racial progress are on open display. The political, moral, ethical and cultural incompetence of Mississippi leaders are obvious.
The situation is tragic. New reports of efforts to provide bottled water evoke compassion and consternation.
“It is a mistake to think this situation is limited to Jackson or to Mississippi.”
However, it is a mistake to think this situation is limited to Jackson or to Mississippi. A February 2020 long form Time magazine article reported that water quality issues exist in many places and that “a 2017 report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure a rating of D, and assessed that the U.S. needs to invest $1 trillion in the next 25 years for upgrades. The alternative is more erosion, not by water but by the damage that occurs in its absence.”
A common factor is clear. Access to clean water is being denied to indigenous, Black, Latinx and unwealthy white people in the United States, where politicians and religious nationalists insist that people should be proud of being “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
The lie that the United States is “one nation” is taking its toll every minute of each day across the country.
The lie that the United States is a nation where “liberty and justice for all” exists is taking its toll every minute of each day.
Jackson, Mississippi, is not an outlier. It is only the latest unmistakable evidence about the death spiral caused by the mountain of myths, lies and heresies preached, taught and practiced about liberty and justice across U.S. history.
Martin Luther King Jr. warned that the nation would pay a price for such transgenerational deceit, hypocrisy and vanity. In a sermon delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967 (exactly a year before he was murdered), King warned: “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
Since then, the United States has spent more money on “military defense,” policing and mass incarceration than on providing health care, education, affordable housing, nutritious food and clean running water to everyone.
Generations of lies built on white supremacy, greed, hypocrisy and calculated violence against people who are marginalized are taking their toll. Thanks to generations of moral, ethical, cultural and political incompetence, the United States seems to be in a death spiral.
The residents of Jackson, Miss., deserve better. So do the rest of us.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
In Jackson, Miss., the lack of water flows into conversation about God, politics and public trust | Opinion by Jason Coker