Systemic Racism Built Mississippi. Gov. Reeves Says It Doesn’t ExistBreaking News
tags: racism, Mississippi, Tate Reeves
On the penultimate day of the Confederate Heritage Month he proclaimed for the second year in a row, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made a bold declaration: “There is not systemic racism in America.”
The announcement, if it were true, could come as a relief to the 38% of Mississippians who are Black. But around 16% of those residents will not have the opportunity to express their gratitude to the governor in the next election because they are systematically disenfranchised due to an 1890 Jim Crow felony voting law.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “systemic racism” as “policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organization, and that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race.”
Like most of America, such racist policies and practices persist in everything from housing and mortgages, to access to banks, to education, to higher education, to criminal justice, to policing, to running water, to health care, to environmental hazards, to farming, to food security and more in Mississippi.
‘To Secure Permanent White Rule’
The disparities in education continue despite the fact that Mississippi enshrined a vow to operate a “uniform system of free public schools” in its 1869 constitution—a key provision that allowed for its readmittance to the Union as a state after the Civil War.
For a brief period during the Reconstruction era, newly emancipated Black Mississippians made enormous gains as Black men, like white ones, gained the right to vote. Mississippi sent the first and second Black men to serve in the U.S. Senate in the nation’s history, respectively, Sens. Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce.
But in 1890, white Mississippi lawmakers began drafting a new Constitution riddled with Jim Crow laws to override the one that, in 1869, had allowed its re-entry to the Union, partly on the promise of equal public education. The new system instituted an explicitly white supremacist regime, with its drafters bent on disenfranchising, criminalizing and denying opportunity to the state’s Black residents.
The legislative committee that drafted Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution was initially explicit in that goal. They adopted a resolution declaring that “it is the duty of this Com. to perform its work in such a manner as to secure permanent white rule in all departments of state government and without due violence to the true principles of our republican system of government.”
They later revised the resolution, changing “white rule” to “intelligent rule.” Contrary to popular misconception, Jim Crow laws usually masqueraded as colorblind. But the drafters of that constitution were not coy as they spoke on the floor.
“I will agree that this is a government by the people and for the people, but what people? When this declaration was made by our forefathers, it was for the Anglo-Saxon people. That is what we are here for today—to secure the supremacy of the white race,” Franklin County delegate J.H. McGehee said to applause from his fellow lawmakers at the 1890 convention as he vowed to strip voting rights from Black residents “even if it does sacrifice some of my white children, or my white neighbors or their children.”
The Great White Chief
After the state adopted that law as part of its constitution, along with other provisions like poll taxes and literacy tests, James K. Vardaman, one of its drafters, explained the goal: “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter … Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n–ger from politics. Not the ‘ignorant and vicious’, as some of the apologists would have you believe, but the n–ger.”
Voters elected Vardaman as governor, and supporters hailed him as Mississippi’s “Great White Chief.”
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