Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Poor People’s Campaign founder and co-chair, speaks during a Moral Monday rally, held by the Poor People’s Campaign, outside of the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. William Barber II announced Monday that his organization would be filing a Fair Housing Act complaint against the state of Mississippi for failing to provide clean drinking water to Jackson residents.

Barber announced the news at a Monday evening rally in downtown Jackson. In his return to Jackson after hosting another protest in late September, the reverend marched alongside about 100 city residents from the Smith Robertson Museum, walking a half mile or so to a stage set up outside the Governor’s Mansion.

The Rev. William Barber II speaks at a rally about Jackson’s drinking water on Oct. 10, 2022. Credit: Alex Rozier / Mississippi Today

“The Fair Housing law says you cannot refuse to give people what they need in their private housing, in their rental housing, or in their federally owned public housing, what they need to have a decent life,” Barber told the crowd on Capitol Street. “And we believe that when you deny people access to clean water, you are violating their fair housing rights.”

Barber cited that the federal law protects against discrimination in housing based on a number of factors, including race. Jackson, the largest city in Mississippi, is 83% Black. The federal government created the law as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

The Poor People’s Campaign also echoed other activists speaking out against the possibility of privatizing Jackson’s drinking water system.

Jackson residents protest on Lamar Street over the city’s drinking water on Oct. 10, 2022. Credit: Alex Rozier / Mississippi Today

“Understand that if you privatize the water of Jackson, everything else is up for grabs,” Barber said. “If you privatize the water they’ll take the economic resources.”

Mississippi Today reported in August that state lawmakers had met to consider new options for managing the city’s water system, including privatizing. It’s unclear, however, what the state’s role will be as the federal government steps in. Last week, the Jackson City Council voted to enter a confidentiality agreement with the Department of Justice in discussing a settlement over the water system, WLBT reported.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.