James C. Anderson was a 49 year-old African-American automobile worker who lived in Jackson, Mississippi. On the surface, James Anderson was no different from you and me. He had a family, worked hard and held on to hopes and dreams of a better life for himself and his loved ones. Sadly he would not live to see any of those hopes and dreams realized during his lifetime.
On a sweltering hot Sunday morning on June 29 at approximately five o'clock, Anderson was spotted standing near his car in a motel parking lot by a mob of seven teens from the nearby predominantly white town of Brandon. He was alone, unarmed and minding his own business, oblivious to the terror that was about to come his way. According to police reports, these drunken teens drove 16 miles to the predominantly African-American city of Jackson (also called Jafrica or Jack-Africa among some racist Mississippi whites) with the sole purpose of looking for "a nigger" that they could "mess with." Unfortunately for Anderson, he was the first Black person they came across as they entered the city.
Immediately upon spotting their potential target, the teens drove into the parking lot, jumped out of their vehicles and attacked Anderson. The teens allegedly beat him unmercifully, yelling racial epitaphs as they administered a volley of blows on various parts of his body. Although the savage beating took place in a matter of minutes it must've seemed like hours for Anderson who was clearly no match for the small mob of angry teens. After beating Anderson to the edge of consciousness, it looked like the teens finally had their fill of pummeling the defenseless man. As the teens were beating Anderson one last time they hurled racial epitaphs at him according to a witness. They screamed "White power," while delivering blows to their victim's body.
By now Anderson is beaten, bloody, dazed, confused and disoriented as he stumbles along the edge of the motel parking lot looking for help that unfortunately would never come. As he stumbled along, he was spotted by Daryl Dedmon (one of the teens who allegedly assaulted him) as he was driving away from the scene in his Green Ford F250 pick up. Dedmon allegedly sped up, drove on the curb where Anderson was stumbling and ran over him. Dedmon then drove to a nearby fast food restaurant where witnesses say he bragged of hitting Anderson as though he had bagged a deer in a hunting trip. "I ran that Nigger over," Dedmon allegedly said to the teens in another vehicle. Anderson was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Many people around the country (myself included) are outraged by the teens' heinous act of brutality. A lot of Mississippians of good will (both Black and white) have worked so hard to see the state get past its ugly history of racial violence and their efforts have paid off to a large extent. Things have changed a lot in Mississippi. I've seen it happen. The laws and signs that once regulated Black people to the back of the lines are gone. We have the highest number of Black elected officials in the nation with African-Americans serving at the municipal, county and state level. We even have a Black man vying to be the Democratic nominee for Governor of Mississippi. Yet despite all of this political progress, Blacks still find themselves at the bottom rung of society when it comes to economics, education, housing and health care. According to Dr. Marianne Hill of the Center for Policy Research and Planning at the Mississippi Institute for Higher Learning, the wage gaps between Black and white Mississippians remain substantial. In her study titled "The Economic Status of African Americans in Mississippi," Hill writes:
The median household income of African-Americans in the state in 2006 was $21,969 or just 51% that of white households ($43,139). Lower household incomes also result in a wealth gap. Only 26% of African Americans here had homes valued at more than $70,000 in 2000, while 60% of whites did.
As a native Mississippian who has spent all 50 years of my life here and as a student of history, I cannot honestly say that I am surprised that these teens may harbor such deep-seated racial hatred. Mississippi's history is replete with racially motivated violence, especially when the economy is constricting the way it is today. Whenever the economy is bad Blacks and people of color have been designated as the racial scapegoat -- the reason why good hard-working whites are losing their jobs, houses and general way of life.
Beneath the surface of racial progress, Mississippi still remains a closed society -- a State divided into two separate realities. One is white and largely privileged, the other is Black and largely disadvantaged. These gaps are the result of decades of racism both de facto and de jure that has prevented African-Americans from gaining equal access to decent jobs, education, health care, equal housing, etc. Believe it or not in 2011 there are still places in Mississippi where hatred and intolerance of African-Americans is still the subtle yet powerful zeitgeist of the day. This is evident in the fact that even Haley Barbour, the current governor of Mississippi has been accused of making racially insensitive statements in public.
For example, it was Barbour who defended racist organization the White Citizen Council by downplaying the role they played in Mississippi's history. "I don't remember it being all that bad," Gov. Barbour told the Weekly Standard. "Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders." Although the White Citizen Council may not have been as violent as their Klan counterpart, they were known for their widespread use of political and economic harassment of Blacks citizen who dared to stand up for Civil Rights. Governor Barbour also dismissed criticism of Virginia's celebration of Confederate History Month, which made mention of slavery, as "no big deal." Not to mention his initial refusal to join the NAACP and other progressive forces in the State in their condemnation of a proposal to honor Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest with a commemorative license plate.
Daryl Dedmon and his friends didn't come up with the idea to go to Jackson and mess with the first "nigger" they saw out of a vacuum. No, that seed was planted in their minds a long time ago and was watered with the bloody history of Mississippi lynchings. It was nurtured in their home town of Brandon MS, where a large portion of the City's Black population (which is about 25.70 percent) still resides at the bottom of Brandon's soci-economic ladder. Brandon as well as the county in which its located, Rankin (AKA "Stankin' Rankin" ) is known among area African-Americans for being the worst place to be caught driving while Black and/or Mexican, especially if you have a out of town license plate. "Rankin County has a history of being racist," says one Jackson area citizen who asked not to be identified. "The city's largely white police force is known among African-Americans in the area for harassing Blacks from Jackson who drive through there going to the movies, shopping or what have you. I personally don't like messing around in Rankin County, especially late at night. Ain't no telling what can happen to you over there."
The vicious killing of James Anderson is but another name on a long list of racially motivated deaths (including Emmit Till, Medger Evers, Vernon Dahmer and Mack Charles Parker) that took place in the Great State of Mississippi. James Craig Anderson's death should remind us that racism is still alive and well not just in Mississippi but all over. As my grandmother used to say, "You can change signs overnight, you can change laws overnight, but you can't change people's hearts overnight." There are White people who secretly feel the exact same way Dedmon and his friends feel about African-Americans and people of color.
If history is any indication of what is to come then as the economy gets worst and worst we can expect to see more racially motivated violence toward Blacks and people of color in the future. If we as people of good will are to prevent this ever happening again we must be vigilant and see that justice is served to the fullest extent of the law.