This year, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed the 1020 Bill, a new set of laws that hold a strong resemblance to the 1877 Jim Crow laws. These are laws that enforce racial segregation and remove basic human rights from black Americans in Mississippi. The decision that will significantly impact the state capital of Jackson, America’s second Blackest city, has seemingly slipped under the radar nation and worldwide.
The History of Jim Crow Laws
The Jim Crow laws existed in the American South between the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877 and the 1950s during the civil rights movement. Though, it is important to note that the racial divide continued after this as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans did not violate the 14th Amendment, in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision (1896). The roots of Jim Crow laws appeared immediately after the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which put an end to slavery in the United States. The Jim Crow Laws emerged around the time of Black Codes and the Ku Klux Klan and were closely related. Reports even say that later, Nazi Germany was inspired by the Jim Crow Laws.
The laws required the separation of whites from “persons of colour” by forbidding African Americans from living in white neighbourhoods. Segregation was also forced on public transportation and in schools, and later extended to theatres, restaurants, parks, and cemeteries; all to prevent contact between black and white citizens. Some states even required separate textbooks for black and white students. Under the Jim Crow laws, African Americans also did not obtain the right to vote in either local or national elections.
The Origins of ‘Jim Crow’
Throughout the 1830s and 40s, a famous entertainer named Thomas Dartmouth Rice performed a popular song-and-dance act that was modelled on his pretend slave persona, “Jim Crow”. Rice would imitate his idea of black people in a distorted and foolish manner, exaggerating and making fun of African American Vernacular English. He would darken his face and would sing what they referred to as “Negro ditties” such as “Jump Jim Crow”. Although Rice was not the only white racist comic in the U.S., he was amongst the most successful and the name “Jim Crow” became a common stage persona that was adopted by many other comedians and white Americans.
For unbeknownst reasons, the insulting name was then adopted for the title of the racist legislation.
The main question is, after all this time and progress the U.S. has made for racial equality, why on earth is Mississippi now resurrecting Jim Crow-like laws?
It’s being claimed the objective is simply to tackle the spike in crime rates and reduce backlogs in the judicial system. For anyone who has not read the fine print, lacks general knowledge about Mississippi and is unaware of the racist history that has been scrubbed out from textbooks, this is almost believable.
The majority-white Mississippi Legislature aim to create courts with appointed judges, instead of elected judges. This means that Black Mississippians could be denied fair representation on the bench and appoint judges that serve the interests of white politicians instead of the community. They also intend on expanding patrols by state police inside the majority-black capital, Jackson.
Critics say Capitol Police in Jackson are aggressive and it is a common rule of thumb amongst the Black Mississippians to be “careful” around police. Democratic Representative Zakiya Summers expressed her fears that her three sons will be treated with hostility.
“While they’re travelling around the city of Jackson and they get pulled over, they’re going to have to keep their hands on 10 and 2. They’re not going to be able to say a doggone thing to that police officer,”
Not only will the plan increase policing, and strip voting and political power away from most Black citizens in Jackson, but it will also divert tax dollars away from communities in need. The legislation re-establishes an absolute white authority while increasing its white police force upon majority-black Jackson.
In its ruling, the court noted that the state designed the restriction to disenfranchise those convicted of “black crimes” while maintaining voting rights for those convicted of “white crimes.”
To paint a clear picture, 83% of Jackson’s population is black, and the 1020 Bill received votes from a white supermajority that will create a new district. This will include a criminal justice system for the district, overseen by an all-white power base. Under the Bill, the white conservative chief justice will handpick the new district’s two supervising judges and on top of that, the prosecutors and public defenders would be chosen by the state’s white Republican attorney general.
The Bill will expand Capitol Police Force around to protect the district, led by the current white police chief, and supervised by the state’s white public safety commissioner. Jackson’s majority-black citizenry will have no voting right on the matter.
Mississippi has historically been the nation’s most segregated state. Throughout most of its history, white supremacists have been able to control government at the local and state levels, redrawing districts over the past 30 years to ensure they can pass any bill without a single Democratic vote, according to Mississippi Today. It seems history is repeating itself and that Bill 1020 is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a state where a black majority is subject to taxation without representation and is now being forced under a white political stronghold.
“Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this … where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people,” said Representative Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton as he pleaded with his colleagues to oppose the measure.
The Bill was described as “some of the most oppressive legislation that we have seen in our city’s history. It’s oppressive because it strips the right of black folks to vote,” by Jackson Mayor Cokwe Antar Lumumba after the bill cleared the House.
“It’s oppressive because it puts a military force over people that has no accountability to them. It’s oppressive because there will be judges who will determine sentences over people’s lives. It’s oppressive because it redirects their tax dollars to something they don’t endorse nor believe in.” - Lumumba
Trey Lamar is a white Republican who sponsored the bill. He lives in and represents a majority-white district more than two hours away from Jackson. Coincidentally, Lamar holds a seat that was once held by his grandfather, Leon Hannaford, who introduced the 1962 bill to tighten residency requirements for college students, which was reported to have kept James Meredith, who was referred to as a “Negro” in the local paper at the time, from filing suit to enter the University of Mississippi.
Lamar insists the bill is “racially neutral”, but at this point, what does this mean to the seemingly white supremacists? Kali Holloway commented: “It’s also the overtly racist subtext needed to justify the idea that white power is the natural “solution” – an assumption so frequently made, it’s recognizable between all those lines of “racially neutral” language.”
It is no surprise that the legislation was tremendously rejected by Jackson’s black representatives. Lamar suggested that they were simply using race as a political manoeuvre and accused the black officials of “incompetence in leadership.”
To immediately criticize the leadership abilities of anyone who disagrees with the controversial Bill, is already oppressive and should not be acceptable behaviour in this so-called “democracy”.
Even if this had nothing to do with race, most citizens of Mississippi do not agree with the Bill. Yet it directly impacts them and their fundamental human rights and has been passed, nonetheless. Ask yourself, what does this teach the rest of America? How long will the Southern states of America continue to discreetly oppress African Americans and get away with it?
Edited by: Yasmin Hailes
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