Only 17 of the 410 county supervisors in Mississippi are women.
Malcolm Johnson, a candidate for the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, thinks that number should be zero.
A source sent Mississippi Today a video from Johnson’s appearance on the WOAD radio show “Tell It Like It Is,” after the firestorm erupted over Republican state Rep. Robert Foster’s refusal to ride along with reporter Larrison Campbell unless she brings a male coworker.
In the clip, Johnson makes a reference to Rukia Lumumba, an activist and executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute, expressing interest in running against incumbent Robert Graham for the Hinds County District 1 supervisor’s seat.
“I heard the mayor’s sister says she wants to be a supervisor. What she needs to do is learn to be a woman. A woman needs to be a woman. Supervisor’s a man’s job,” Johnson said.
Rukia Lumumba is the older sister of Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba. Johnson added that Lumumba should instead serve on “the school board.” Former Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber also appeared on the show and rebuffed Johnson’s assertion, stating that Lumumba is a woman before changing the subject.
Johnson’s comments were preceded by praise for Graham, calling him, “the hardest working supervisor.” In a phone interview, Graham disavowed Johnson’s comments.
“That is totally asinine. I would never have anything to do with a statement like that. I have a very good working relationship with Mayor Lumumba and plan on keeping it that way,” Graham told Mississippi Today.
This episode of the show first aired in February, before the March 1 deadline to qualify for November’s state elections. However, Lumumba said she never considered seeking that seat, although she said she has often been asked to run for political office.
“I’ve never considered running for supervisor. But what I will say is that if my work in the community is a threat to him, he needs to continue to be threatened because I’m not stepping back,” Lumumba said.
Lumumba also called Johnson’s claim that women lack the political acumen to serve as county supervisor “insulting, inaccurate and ignorant.”
“That kind of chauvinist thinking has led to generations of disenfranchisement and oppression in every community because of the limited ideology regarding women, a demographic that any supervisor would be charged with representing,” Lumumba said. “This demonstrates his inability to serve in any public office.”
Johnson did not respond to requests from Mississippi Today to comment. Patty Patterson, Johnson’s only female opponent, did.
“I want to represent this county as a woman — that is a single mother and raising a son. I would never … ever ever allow my son to even think like that,” Patterson said. My platform is about empowering people… it’s going to take all of us and women, we are out here making things happen. We have made things happen.”
The lack of women in elected office is also demonstrated in the legislative makeup of Mississippi. Just 14 percent of lawmakers are women, despite making up 52 percent of the state population. This is the worst gender disparity within a state legislature in the country.
Peggy Hobson Calhoun, Hinds County District 3 supervisor, was the first woman elected to the Hinds County Board of Supervisors in 1992. In 2017 she was elected President of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, but not before receiving a similar sexist remark from a male colleague, she said.
Still, Calhoun, who has served as president of the Hinds County board and is not seeking reelection, says she trusts voters to elect qualified candidates regardless of their gender.
Calhoun said women are increasingly being elected into positions that men have historically dominated.
“Some of them have outperformed their male colleagues,” Calhoun said.