Rupert Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 2010


Record of progress begs question of need for ‘outside help’

“Southern Mirror works through its training and technical assistance programs to provide the information  which community people need to develop the skills to become effective community organizers, enable people in their respective communities to assume leadership roles, and work together for the empowerment of the white community.”

Does that paragraph sound racist to you? It does to me. However, I replaced the words “Echo” with “Mirror” and “African American” with “white.”

The non-profit Southern Echo organization wants to help re-align North Panola School District and maybe other governmental boundaries in Panola County.

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I say, “No, thank you.”

Words spoken at the recent North Panola School Board meeting and written in the organization’s Web site are racist. There is a double standard those who pay attention know. There may have been a day when those words and standards were needed and acceptable, but Panola County has moved beyond that.

It’s not that there aren’t racists among us. Their numbers are many and their color is mixed. But having an outside agency come in spewing racial rhetoric will only fuel a fire that has been tempered over the years with understanding and tolerance that came from within, not from the outside.

Why is Southern Echo wanting to help redistrict a school district whose enrollment is 96 percent African American and four of five trustees are African American?

Remember Panola is the county chosen from which to pick a jury for the trial of noted racist and now convicted murder, the late Byron De La Beckwith. Two mistrials came from previous Hinds County jury trials 30 years earlier.

Remember this is a county that just last month elected an African American Justice Court Judge.

Remember, in that same election, Panola County elected an African American Sheriff. And don’t fool yourself and think he only received African American votes.

Also note that of the 10 elected school board trustees in Panola County, six are African Americans, eight are women.

Remember that one of the state’s most respected elected officials in the Mississippi House of Representatives, the late Leonard Morris, was originally elected from a majority white district that included Panola County and that position is currently filled by another African American who also enjoys support from many white citizens.

Reconciling racial differences and problems should come from the heart. Most of us are more tolerant than our parents and they were more tolerant than our grandparents were.

It’s a process. There is no panacea. While some will never be tolerant of those whose skin is a different color,  we must move forward not wasting time attempting to convince them otherwise. But racist comments, such as those espoused by Southern Echo, only empower those with radical leanings and don’t help anyone.

It seems obvious that good, well-meaning citizens of Panola have enough sense to have our political lines redrawn, where needed, to suit most of our citizens in an equitable and open manner, without outside influence and agitation.

Meanwhile we in Panola need to concentrate on electing officials whose interests are about public service. Skin color need not be a qualification.