Despite firebombing, Jackson paper remains defiant voice of poor Mississippi blacks
AFP, 22 March 1998
JACKSON, Mississippi, March 22 (AFP) - Despite a firebomb attack that caused heavy damage nearly two months ago, the 60-year-old Jackson Advocate weekly remains the defiant voice of poor Mississippi blacks.
Last January 26, unknown assailants broke into the office of Mississippi's oldest black newspaper in Jackson's rundown but historic Farish black district and hurled firebombs that destroyed equipment worth 125,000 dollars.
Irreplaceable files, books and cultural artifacts were also lost in what local black organizations are calling a hate crime by suspected white supremacist groups in a state reputed for its segregationist past.
Local and federal police, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have been probing the case but so far no progress has been reported.
"My suspicion is that people linked to the takeover of the downtown business district are behind it," said Charles Tisdale, the Advocate's publisher, who is known for his outspoken attacks on the state's white and black establishments.
Speaking in a makeshift newsroom across the street from his boarded-up, gutted headquarters, the 67-year-old Tisdale charged that local business leaders are targeting prime downtown real estate currently occupied by poor blacks for gentrification.
As in other urban areas across the United States, developers are renovating depressed downtown areas to provide housing for middle-class people who had fled to the suburbs but are growing tired of long and exhausting commutes.
"As soon as they get rid of us, whites will return because it becomes too expensive and too inconvenient to drive from the suburbs," said Tisdale, who claimed that the ultimate goal was to reverse the 60 percent black majority in Jackson's population of 200,000.
But Jackson's black mayor, Harvey Johnson, says the renovation of the Farish district is part of a city-wide revitalization that will bring in more affordable housing and other amenities to the downtown area.
Johnson's election last year with significant white support reflects the evident spirit of racial reconciliation evident in many urban communities across the South.
Tuesday, secret files of a Mississippi segregation-era spy agency were unsealed here, turning the spotlight on the state's ruthless efforts to derail court-ordered integration and destroy the black civil rights movement.
"This is part of the democratic process. I hope it will be a major step forward in racial reconciliation," said Henry Holmes, a white official with the state department of archives, where the files were stored.
"We still have deep problems with racism, But I think we've made a lot progress," according to David Ingebretsen, the white executive director of the American Civil Liberties Unions (ACLU) who led a 20-year court fight to force the state to unseal the files of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission (MSC), which was disbanded in 1977.
But Tisdale, historian and veteran of the civil rights struggle, does not quite see it that way. He called Mayor Johnson a "stooge" of the white business community and pooh-poohed the unsealing of the MSC files. "The papers that would have been important (in helping victims seek justice) have long ago been sanitized."
On signs of black economic progress -- many blacks who had fled north during segregation are returning to the South to retire and invest -- he said: "The illusion that things are all right is being preached by the black middle class, but the black underclass is facing genocide."
Tisdale sees the firebombing as the latest of many attempts to silence his uncompromising attacks on the neglect of the black underclass in a state which is the poorest in the nation, with a 1996 per capita income of 16,683 dollars.
Blacks represent roughly 40 percent of Mississippi's 2.5 million people -- the largest percentage of blacks in any US state -- and the vast majority of its poor.
Wendell Paris, field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), agrees that the plight of the black underclass is "terrible and getting worse."
The key priority, he said, was improving the substandard education that taps them into joblessness, welfare, drugs and despair.