50 years after Delta tour, we still struggle to face the challenges, part 2

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 6, 2017

By David Hampton

Former editorial director of The Clarion-Ledger

Given the facts and the right information, people will do the right thing.

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That’s a pretty basic belief that underlies our democracy. We believe most people will support what is best for the common good. Don’t we?

I was fortunate recently to be able to participate in a trip to the Mississippi Delta with Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Edelman and a group of journalists, health care professionals, elected officials and economic developers revisited the Delta recently. The group included well-known Mississippi journalists and authors Hodding Carter and Curtis Wilkie.

In 1967, Carter covered the Kennedy visit for his family’s paper, the Delta Democrat-Times, and Wilkie for the Clarksdale Press Register. They talked of what it was like then and they can tell you what it is like now, and how misguided politics, weak leadership and bad policy create and exacerbate those conditions today.

Remarkably, some elected officials in 1967 did not believe there were hungry children in America. Tragically, some elected officials today don’t seem to care.

Food insecurity is only one problem in the Delta. It’s easy to look around the Delta and see problems of inadequate housing, people without jobs, and people struggling.

Yes, there is some progress. The poverty rate that once was about 70 percent in 1967 now hovers around 30-40 percent in some Delta counties, which still is way too high.

But, with all the facts, all the evidence, and all we see and know, somehow we can’t face it squarely and make the hard decisions to do what we all know should be done. We know that we should take care of children. We know that we should feed the hungry, take care of the elderly and provide opportunity and hope and life to those who don’t have it. We know we should insist on — pay for, tax for, volunteer for —good public schools. We should invest in programs and ideas that protect and educate and lift.

We can disagree on how best to do that, but first we have to look and see the problems and not deny that they exist or that it is our problem.

I always have to get past my cynical moments. People with the right information will do the right thing. But we need to look at facts and not allow weak political leadership and apathy to undo progress that has been made.

Theologian John Westerhoff said effective prayer is the dedicated discipline of paying attention. I think that goes for effective public policy as well.

In 1967, some came to see for themselves and acted on what they saw. We need to look around. We need to pay attention.