Improve education, increase voter participation and abandon longstanding attitudes that resist change in Mississippi. Those were some of the answers given to the question “Where Do We Go From Here?” posed at a symposium Friday examining advancement in Mississippi since the civil rights movement and issues that affect further progress.
Tougaloo College and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History co-hosted the discussion at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson with panelists Daphne Chamberlain, history department chair at Tougaloo College; Marty Wiseman, professor emeritus of political science and former executive director of the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University; Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson; and James Barksdale, chairman and president of the Barksdale Management Corp. Former Gov. William Winter moderated the event.
The panel members said enactment of the “religious freedom” law, resistance to changing the state flag to remove the Confederate emblem and cutting the budgets of state agencies during the recent legislative session will have detrimental effects on Mississippi.
The importance of education was a consistent theme.
To combat persistent poverty in the state, we need to “make up our minds to make sure everybody has access to education,” Horhn said.
The state doesn’t necessarily have to spend money to create positive change, Barksdale said.
He commended passage of a law during this year’s legislative session that requires all local school superintendents to be appointed rather than elected after Jan. 1, 2019, as a way to open access to more qualified candidates beyond individual school districts. He also cited the success of reading coaching in early education, which is a factor in improved third-grade reading assessments.
Beyond public school issues, individuals voters have a voice but they can be under-educated or mis-educated, Horhn said.
“How do we educate the electorate to make wiser, better choices?” he asked.
Part of what impedes the state’s progress, Wiseman said, is reliance on traditions that fall in line with the “Southern way of life, ” in essence justifying white superiority and black inferiority with “religious zeal.”