Politics & Government

Why black leaders from across the nation are teaming up in Biloxi

Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, is the leader of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, is the leader of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus. AP File

Black leaders from around the country will be in Biloxi over the weekend looking for new ideas for its agenda.

The Mississippi Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials will be the host for the National Policy Alliance Saturday through Monday.

The meetings begin at noon Saturday with a lunch sponsored by the East Biloxi Community Collaborative at the Frank Gruich Community Center, 591 Howard Ave.

“We really need the voice of Mississippi Gulf Coast communities to make a mutually beneficial contribution to the New National Black Agenda,” Caucus President Lewis Johnson, who also is Grenada City Council president, said in a press release. It continues Sunday and Monday at the Beau Rivage with workshops that will include Climate Change in the Scheme of Things, Success and Sanity: Balanced Leadership, Finance and Budgeting and several others.

The Caucus said it’s the largest constituency of the Mississippi Municipal League. It says it provides scholarships, education, training and support for local elected officials.

“Our purpose for coming to Mississippi is to bring a national partnership and a national voice to let the State know first, that there is a Black Agenda, second, that we need input from our communities to fashion it to meet our needs, and finally, that it is going to take time, resources and collective will to make sure that we institute it,” said NPA Executive Director Linda Haithcox Taylor. “We have to start with a conversation which is what we are doing here in Biloxi.”

Neither made any mention of the Mississippi state flag, which has caused some controversy because it has the Confederate Battle Flag in its upper left corner. Biloxi is one of the cities on the Coast that stopped flying it over its City Hall.

Still, the 51 members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus will boycott a meeting the following weekend of the Southern Legislative Conference in Biloxi. Sonya Williams-Barnes said the caucus is boycotting the conference, not Biloxi.

“The Southern Legislative Conference entails 14 southern states with Mississippi being the last among them to rid themselves of the Confederate emblem on its state flag,” she said. “The boycot is for the sole purpose of bringing attention to the state flag and gaining the Southern Legislative Conference’s assistance in removing it.”

Blacks in Mississippi have said for years that the flag is a painful reminder of slavery, racism and other unsavory elements of Mississippi’s past.

“We want a flag that all residents of the state can be proud to carry,” she said.

Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia are members of the conference, which was founded in 1947 to encourage “intergovernmental cooperation” among its members.