Last week, The Clarion-Ledger published an article (Gary Pettus, "City loses 19K white residents in decade," 2/6/11) in which it summarized and responded to data from the 2010 U.S. census, which records an overall 5.83 percent population loss in Jackson over the past 10 years. But as the headline suggests, the issue is less population loss than the color of the population loss: Jackson's black majority has grown from 73 percent to 79 percent since 2000. Not that this is only due to white population loss: Jackson has gained 7,500 net black residents, which has softened the effect of white flight on the city population. But according to the article, and the horrifically racist online reader comments below the fold, the demographic shift itself poses a danger to the city's future.
Not that The Clarion-Ledger's readership is alone in its reaction to the census. The day after article appeared, the blog of the Mississippi Business Journal called for commercial developers downtown to secede from the rest of the city, declare an independent "District of Magnolia," and operate under the supervision of the majority-white state government ("MS should call Jackson the District of Magnolia, take it over," 2/7/11). And whites on Facebook who had previously described the city as a wonderful place to live seem to be experiencing a crisis of faith, bemoaning the city's disappearing middle class despite the fact that the most recent economic census numbers, from 2007, were promising enough to allow for more than $1 billion in downtown development and extensive commercial development throughout the rest of the city.
If you want to look at how the city has really changed, go stand on the sidewalk in front of the King Edward Hotel and look around you. Then imagine how different your environment would have looked if you'd done that 10 years ago, when the city was whiter. Or 20 years ago, when the city was only 56 percent black, had a white mayor, and had nearly twice as many homicides per year.
We're smaller, blacker, and much, much stronger than we were 20 years ago.
There is no question that Hurricane Katrina, followed immediately by the worst economic recession in U.S. history, has hurt the economic climate in Jackson. But we have to find new solutions to these problems; the old ones didn't work. And we have to bring new people into Jackson; the old ones didn't stay. And we have to find a new model for what our city needs to look like; the old one didn't hold up. And we have to develop new commercial possibilities for the city, because the old ones were not ambitious enough to give us the renaissance we all know that we are beginning to experience.
The challenge that the new census numbers presents to white Jacksonians is this: "Are you willing to commit yourself to the future of a thriving 79 percent black city?" Because by any reasonable standards that take into account our city's history and its location in the center of the poorest U.S. state, we are thriving. We survived a disastrous mayoral administration, pushed through the regional economic effects of Katrina, and continue to develop through a recession.
This did not happen by mistake; it happened through the hard work and sacrifice of people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds who are committed to the future of this city, and it happened because this is a city worthy of our commitment. Our enemy is, and has always been, segregation. We always knew we would defeat it. We just didn't know when.
Maybe that time is now. Now that the possibility of a white suburban reconquista is demographically nonsensical, we all have the opportunity to stand together as a multicultural Jackson that represents everything that is good, everything that is new, and everything that is redemptive about Mississippi as it exists today—and continue to build, on the foundation of an extinct volcano, the greatest capital city we have ever had.
All evidence points to our success, but the greatest evidence will be our continuing willingness, as a community, to work together and get the job done. Every Jacksonian has the opportunity to be part of that process.
Freelance writer Tom Head is a lifelong Jacksonian. He has authored or co-authored 24 nonfiction books on a wide range of topics, is a civil liberties writer for About.com, and volunteers as a grassroots progressive activist.
I think the problem in Jackson boils down to its representation in city government. Now I could totally be reading more into it than actually is the case but it seems to me that the black leaders don't really care about the white citizenry or the few white neighborhoods that are left. At least that's how I see it from their, meaning the mayor and city council members and police, conduct and public displays. That's also how I see it from a white family member of mine that lives in Jackson who frequently says "if you're white, you can't get any attention or anything done in Jackson by the mayor, police or anyone else", anyone else ranging from the sewer department to the dog catcher. I don't live in Jackson so I have no dog in this hunt and don't care one way or the other about who is the majority in Jackson and who isn't. But if this is truly the case, Jackson will eventually be 95% black and that's only because the other 5% can't afford to move.
Jackson's declining population should be of concern to everyone, but it should not be framed entirely as a race issue. It may have begun with white flight, but growing, racially-balanced public schools in Clinton, Ridgeland, Byram, Pearl etc. suggest that much of our black middle class hasn't been far behind in leaving. Jackson certainly needs to redouble its efforts to attract a vibrant middle class of all races in the coming decade. Neither finger pointing nor sugarcoating will help. It has to begin with better schools, safer communities, and better public services for all citizens. I am cautiously optimistic it can happen.
- ed inman
Developers, real estate agents, builders, banks, etc made tons of money over the past couple of censuses. I think the top tier or ruling class planned for this 'white flight'. The prison/industrial complex which includes security companies, criminal lawyers, political opportunists, drug dealers on the retail & wholesale level, and other vendors benefited from the demographic shifts. Politicians that have remained in office over this period, having served multiple terms, have particular skills suited to such changes. They have not been honest and hopefully a responsible polity will wake up and remove them. Political leaders that understand proper social development are needed now.