By Ivory Phillips
Special to the NNPA News Wire from the Jackson Advocate
The long-awaited bill that would authorize a new board to control Jackson’s Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport was filed this week. It had been talked about for the last several weeks. The early report was that the five-member board appointed by the Mayor of the City of Jackson would be replaced by a nine-member board appointed by the Governor. Such a move would make it a regional airport, since there would be three members each from Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties. But such a move would also undercut the economic benefits that Jackson enjoys at a time when it is already strapped for revenue. The state has, in recent times, removed or attempted to remove the State Tax Commission, the Crime Laboratory, the State Highway Patrol, and the Bureau of Vital Statistics out of the city. It has also amended the 1 percent sales tax increase law in such a way that not enough revenue is produced for the needed infrastructure repairs and has approved the construction of a water treatment plant elsewhere that will cause Jackson to lose millions of dollars.
As news of the planned bill by Mississippi state Senator Josh Harkins (R) became known, opposition began to be heard from the Mayor and City Council of Jackson, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors and community activist groups. Just last week, the Mississippi State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, led by President Derrick Johnson, held a press conference to denounce the plan. In no uncertain terms, Johnson indicated that the move was unfair and racially motivated.
Almost immediately, Harkins and his backers and cohorts denied that the move was racially motivated. But given the history of Mississippi and the current political climate in the state, Johnson is apparently on target.
Once State Senate Bill 2162 was filed, organized opposition became quite apparent. The Coalition for Economic Justice called a meeting at the Chokwe Lumumba Center of West Capitol Street. The coalition, initially made up of Cooperation Jackson, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the Peoples’ Assembly, was chaired by Akil Bakari. It was a call for like-minded groups and individuals to come together in not just protesting the move but organizing ways and means to de-rail the take over attempt. The meeting drew people from the Nation of Islam, Respect Your Black Dollars, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, and others in addition to the three initial coalition organizations. The group expressed a desire to attract others such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Working Together Jackson, and the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
Recently, the coalition held a press conference on the second floor of the Rotunda in the State Capitol Building on Wednesday morning. The tenor of the press conference was the same as had been expressed by the coalition on Tuesday night and the NAACP on last week. There was also apparent support from members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
In addition to the meetings and press conferences, organized opposition has taken other forms.
Members of the current airport board are writing letters to the editors, making the rounds to community groups, appearing on radio and television talk shows and otherwise sharing information that may prove useful to citizens and groups who want to assist in saving the airport. Citizens are spreading the word in the streets, at shopping centers, in the workplace, and wherever they meet. They are making it known how much every stream of revenue means in terms of financing the schools, fixing the water system and streets, attracting businesses, and all of the other things that are needed in the city. Lawyers are monitoring the case in Charlotte, N.C., where the state legislature has attempted to take control of the municipally-owned airport under similar circumstances. Whatever is learned from that case, they plan to utilize in the Jackson case. Finally, it has been brought to light that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will have to give its approval for any change in the oversight of the airport.