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First In Cruelty, Last In Anything Good, There’s A Reason They Say ‘Mississippi, Goddam'

Mary Moore Glenn, mother of Marrio Moore, 40, left, Gretchen Hankins, mother of Jonathan Hankins, 39, center, and Bettersten Wade, mother of Dexter Wade, 37, hold photographs of their deceased sons during a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi on Dec. 20, 2023, where they expressed their sentiments regarding their sons being buried by authorities in unmarked graves in the Hinds County Pauper's Field in Raymond, without the families' knowledge for extended periods of time.

Mary Moore Glenn, mother of Marrio Moore, 40, left, Gretchen Hankins, mother of Jonathan Hankins, 39, center, and Bettersten Wade, mother of Dexter Wade, 37, hold photographs of their deceased sons during a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi on Dec. 20, 2023, where they expressed their sentiments regarding their sons being buried by authorities in unmarked graves in the Hinds County Pauper's Field in Raymond, without the families' knowledge for extended periods of time.

My sister once told me a story that I found almost impossible to believe. When we were teens (back in the yesteryear of the 1990s), she said she traveled back in time. I know. I know. I made the same face that you’re making right now as you are reading this. But she was convinced it happened. She talked about this place where Blacks could only go rollerskating on Saturday because Sunday was for the whites. She claimed that there were no signs stating this, but everyone knew. She talked about the racism being so palpable that she could feel it. She talked about how she couldn’t wait to leave. 

The place was Tupelo, Mississippi. And my sister still talks about this time as if she were a part of an antebellum resistance; as if her leaving was an escape. 

Mississippi.

The place where Reconstruction never happened. The place where Jim Crow stands still. The place where the poverty rate is almost 20% — one of the highest in the country. A state so hopped up on machismo and Southern bootstraps that it withdrew from a federal program to help feed children during the summer, because, as Atlantic writer Adam Serwer once wrote about Trump supporters who rejoice in the suffering of others, “The Cruelty Is the Point.”

Jackson, Mississippi, still doesn’t regularly have clean water and hasn’t had clean water ... since, wait let me check my notes ... this can’t be correct ... since 2022! The state government not only refuses to help the poor in their own state, but a major corruption case also alleges that state leaders took welfare funds to build a new volleyball court at a state school that a famous former NFL quarterback’s daughter attended.

And then there was this tidbit: For almost six months, Bettersten Wade has longed for her son’s return. On the evening of March 5, 2023, Dexter Wade, 37, left his mother’s house in Jackson and never came back. Bettersten Wade notified police, filed a missing persons report and waited. Nothing. No word on his whereabouts until some 172 days later she learned that her son had been killed less than an hour after leaving her home. He was reportedly “walking across Interstate 55, a six-lane highway, when a Jackson police SUV driven by an off-duty corporal struck him in the southbound lanes,” NBC News reported. 

Dexter Wade had been buried in pauper’s grave behind a jail. The police claimed that there was a mixup in paperwork, which is why his mother wasn’t notified. Bettersten believes that the police didn’t want to find her son because of a strained relationship with the family after a Jackson officer slammed her 62-year-old brother to the ground, killing him, in 2019.

But here’s what makes this story even more harrowing: When Wade’s family recovered his body, they found that he was buried with his wallet, which contained his state ID, a credit card and other forms of identification.

“The fact that Dexter had a state identification card and several other identifying items shows us that there was a concerted effort to keep the truth and manner of his death from his family,” the Wade family’s attorney Ben Crump said, NPR reports. “There is no excuse, not even incompetence, for not notifying a next of kin of an identified man’s death.”

And, as if all of Mississippi’s mistakes, mismanagement, and maybe even malfeasance weren’t enough, then how about what else the Wade family discovered that day that they unearthed Dexter Wade’s body: some 215 other graves.

“We know, based on the records from the coroner’s office, that, since 2016, in the last eight years, we can identify 215 individuals that were buried behind that jail, and their families have not been notified,” Crump told PBS NewsHour this week.

At this point, I think the only solution left is to simply saw Mississippi off the map and let it float off into the Gulf of Mexico and we just keep walking as if we didn’t realize it was ever a part of the collective. Seriously, Mississippi could just become a separate nation state or a property of the U.S. that we don’t really claim or help. Kind of like Puerto Rico

We could round up all of the “Make America Great Again” crowd and move them all to the new island of Mississippi where they can raise all of the Confederate flags they like and reenact the Civil War and actually win this time, because at this point, Mississippi has overtaken Florida for the most embarrassing state…but in a way that’s much more sinister. For all of the nonsensical antics connected to “Florida man” (for example, the game in which you type your birthday and “Florida man” into a search engine and wait for the crazy headline attached to a very true story) are the eerily real life crazy of Mississippi. For instance, when I type in my birthday and “Mississippi man,” I get “Mississippi man who went missing found with head severed.” Mississippi is all the things that “Twin Peaks” wishes it could’ve been, except Mississippi is real life.

Mississippi isn’t just racist, it’s where racists go to sharpen their racism. It’s where normal systems go to learn how to be systematically racist. Mississippi ranks last in damn near every statistical category that matters. It is 49th in both health care and economy, according to U.S. News’ Best States ranking. It is 47th in infrastructure, 41st in education and 40th in fiscal stability — which is completely skewed when you consider that Mississippi ranks No. 1 in affordability, a stat that was considered in the fiscal rankings. The problem with this is Mississippi is poor, so of course it’s affordable, but that doesn’t mean it’s livable or likable or sustainable. It just means it’s cheap. And as such, Mississippi is where Black dreams go to die. 

Eighty percent of Jackson residents are Black. They have a Black mayor and a majority Black city council. For years, Jackson has begged the state to help replace the water infrastructure that was more than 100 years old, and Mississippi did nothing to fix it. Then the rain came and the Pearl River flooded and the “boil water before you do anything” notices kept coming. And nothing got fixed and everyone just kept pointing fingers. Mississippi’s governor claimed that the state had given the city some $200 million dollars over the last five or so years, but a deep dive into the numbers found that he wasn’t telling the full truth, as part of the funding the state was taking credit for was from federally funded programs like COVID-19 relief money. The mayor fought to bring attention to the crisis and Congress was forced to step in and send money to a Black city in the Southern state that used an old trick in the “how to ignore a Black problem and get other people to pay for it” book. A master class in systemic racism. 

At this point, Mississippi is the state that other cold-hearted Republican states can point to and say, “We might be racist, but we’ve never cut federal funding to ensure that kids can’t eat during the summer.” And this wasn’t just a few kids. Mississippi has the highest number of people eligible for SNAP benefits in the entire country — nearly 1 in 3 residents in 2020 were eligible for the program. And you know who doesn’t care about any of this? Mississippi. The state is so callous that it would rather turn up its nose to federal help and let children go hungry than have the label of being a welfare state, which is much better than what I’d call it. 

But this is Mississippi, the last state in the country to let go of the Confederate symbol on its state flag during the racial reckoning of 2020 — and even then, it did so begrudgingly. While the Confederate symbol may be gone, the sentiment it represents remains. Mississippi is continuing to hold up the mantle for the South, the old South. And if you ever want to feel what it was like to live back in the Jim Crow South, just visit Mississippi — but I’m just hoping you will have to take a boat way out to the middle of the Gulf of Mexico to get there.