50 years later: Group tours poverty stricken areas in the Delta

(WJTV) — Fifty years ago, Robert Kennedy accepted the invitation of a recent law school graduate to tour the Mississippi Delta. Marian Wright Edelman wanted then senator and Presidential Candidate Kennedy to see the overwhelming poverty. This week she returned where she visited some of the same towns.

The first stop on the tour is Glendora, MS. Like many other areas in the Delta, 50 years later, they are still facing the same problems: poverty, food insecurity and limited access to healthcare. “It’s sad to go back to see it be a shadow of what it used to be,” says Curtis Wilkie, Associate Professor at the University of Mississippi. Wilkie is one of many who returned, to tour the Delta years later with Marian Wright Edelman.

“I wish the senators would have the chance to go and just look at the empty cupboards in the delta, and the number of people who are going around begging just to feed their children,” says a young Edelman back in 1967. She just finished law school, and during that year she urged U.S. Senators to come see the conditions many were living in. “Starvation is a major problem.”

Senator Robert Kennedy accepted Edelman’s offer to visit the Delta.

“A number of our corporations are making profits greater than 70 percent of the world, that we would think that all of us would be able to provide for some of our citizens living in part of this country,” says Kennedy.

After Kennedy’s trip, he helped get the food stamp program amended to help more families in need. He was assassinated one year later. Some on the tour, this week, feel Kennedy’s death stopped the momentum to do more.

Now in Glendora, the population is 160. The town was just able to get a convenience store after being without one for almost 30 years.

Former Mayor of Glendora, Jim Thomas, says “what I like to call ourselves is a 6x food desert because we have to travel 60 miles round trip to get tissue paper.”

The next stop on the tour was Jonestown, MS. According to the non-profit The Children’s Defense Fund, nearly 30 percent of children in Coahoma County live in areas with unreliable access to nutritious food.

“Even though I work every day, it’s still difficult,” says mom of five Otibehia Allen while telling the group about raising her kids in Jonestown.

Marian Wright Edelman is the founder of The Children’s Defense Fund.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in the movements in the 60’s, major transformation.” Edelman adds, “but now we need to go the second and third steps of making sure that we are an inclusive country for everybody.”

The last stop on the tour was Marks, MS. More than one-third of children in Quitman County suffer from food insecurity, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. A panel was held to educate the community on these issues. Health organizations also gave checkups to children in the area.”

“This is a time when we have to decide that we’re not going to go backwards, but we’re also going to move forward,” said Edelman.

She is now urging city leaders and those who live in these delta communities to come up with a plan to help end poverty.


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