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With Mississippi visit, Joe Biden takes a Southern victory lap

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Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at Tougaloo College in Jackson on Sunday ahead of the Tuesday's primary elections. (photo by Keith Phillips)

Biden has dominated primaries in the South, where African Americans are the soul of the Democratic Party. The most powerful black Mississippi politicians have endorsed him in recent days, and in the state with the highest percentage of African American residents, nearly three-fourths of Democratic primary voters are black.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden’s challenger, canceled a scheduled visit to the state earlier this week, all but ceding the South — and Mississippi — to Biden.

“Joe is the person you might be meeting at lunch at Pearl’s restaurant on Terry Road, the person you might meet at Bully’s restaurant on Livingston Road,” Congressman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Democrat in Washington, said at a Biden rally on Sunday. “We’re here today to put the marker down that this country is about to change. If you’ve had the three years like all of us have had, it’s absolutely our time to change it… We’re going to come together Tuesday and speak with one voice as Democrats. And one person that can unite Democrats in this country is Joe Biden.”

Biden’s Sunday visit to Mississippi was less a campaign trip and more a victory lap asserting his dominance in the South, particularly with black voters.

The venues his campaign selected for his Sunday swing said it all: New Hope Baptist Church, Jackson’s largest black church, where Biden was welcomed warmly by the large and politically engaged congregation; Pearl’s Southern Cooking in south Jackson, where Biden loaded up a carb-heavy plate of soul food; and Tougaloo College, the historically black college where hundreds of Mississippians packed into the gymnasium.

“The notion that he would dare to come to Mississippi, the notion that he would even think of coming to Tougaloo College, the notion that he could bring black and white Mississippians together,” Thompson said, almost with a sense of surprise in his voice, “he’s the kind of person we all want as president.”

Meanwhile, a few dozen Sanders supporters canvassed around Jackson on Saturday and Sunday. While some key African American leaders endorsed Sanders in recent days, including Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and Reverend Jesse Jackson Jr., Biden’s roll of support in the state was unmistakable on Sunday.

It wasn’t just that a who’s who of Mississippi Democratic politics showed their support for Biden on Sunday; it was the energy that the people at the events showed — an energy that has been largely absent from Democratic politics in this state since at least 2008 when Biden’s old boss broke what many thought was an insurmountable racial barrier in America.

His close ties with former President Barack Obama mean everything to many Mississippi black voters. And if Sunday is evidence, a Biden nomination could provide a spark of energy with African Americans that many hope will move Mississippi closer toward purple.

That is precisely the reason that Mike Espy, the Democratic former congressman who’s trying to defeat Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in November, endorsed Biden on Sunday morning, saying: “I wouldn’t be comfortable (with Sanders).”

“I think Joe Biden is going to bring people together. He’s going to heal the nation,” Espy told Mississippi Today on Sunday. “For a candidate like me, I’d be more than comfortable being his down-ballot running mate. With Joe Biden, I know where he stands. I know him, and he knows me. I think a lot of people here feel that way.”

If recent political history is any indication, Biden is perhaps on the brink of his largest margin of victory of any state in the primary. Just four years ago, Mississippi delivered Hillary Clinton just that against Sanders, the progressive who is almost as polarizing in Mississippi Democratic circles as Republican President Donald Trump, with an 83-17 percent victory.

The energy inside Biden’s Sunday afternoon rally at Tougaloo College was palpable. The setting itself, in the school’s gymnasium, is just a few hundred yards from the college’s Woodworth Chapel, a central location of the Civil Rights Movement where Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. crafted strategy.

Hundreds of people representing a diverse set of races and ages stood in a long, snaking line a couple of hours before the afternoon rally. Jackson’s Southern Komfort Brass Band warmed up attendees before the rally, and at one point before the rally began, the crowd cheered loudly as several people wearing International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers T-shirts walked in the gym.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and actress Vivica A. Fox spoke at the rally before Biden.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of worshipers gathered at New Hope Baptist Church to welcome Biden. Among the attendees was Espy, a longtime member of that church, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and dozens of lawmakers and other Democratic elected officials. 

Biden spoke for 15 minutes at the end of the service about his Catholic faith and his own relationship with church. He called the 2020 election “an inflection point” in American history and reminded the congregation of Trump’s words following the deadly 2017 Charlottesville riots. 

Thompson, the congressman, introduced Biden at the church, calling him “the comeback kid.”

“If I’m the comeback kid, there’s only one reason that’s a fact: African American support all around the country,” Biden said. “I know why I’m here… You’re the reason I’m back. Nobody else.”


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Fire

Fire at Cato Fashions Saturday evening

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(photo by Thomas Parker)

Vicksburg firefighters were called to a fire at Cato Fashions, 2184 Iowa Blvd., Saturday around 6:30 p.m. near the Walmart Supercenter.

Firefighter checks the HVAC vents. (photo by Thomas Parker)

First reports say smoke could be seen coming from the vents, and firefighters are checking the HVAC system for problems. The situation seems well under control.

The store has been evacuated as are staff and customers in nearby stores. There are no reports of injuries.

Numerous Vicksburg fire and police units have responded including Engines 7 and 8, Ladder 15, Rescue, Fire Medic 80 and Battalion 1 (Tim Love).

The Vicksburg Daily News will provide updates as we receive them.

See our live, on-the-scene report on our Facebook page.

 

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Education

Mississippi native elected as Harvard student body president

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(photo courtesy Noah Harris)

A Mississippi high school graduate has been elected as Harvard University’s student body president.

Noah Harris, a 2018 graduate of Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is the first African American to serve in the role at prestigious Harvard University in Massachusetts.

“I’m really grateful that the student body is entrusting me with such a historic and unprecedented moment,” Harris told WDAM. “To make the right moves and to really bring their voices to the forefront. I just never expected that I would be in a position to run for this.”

Harris is a junior and a political science major at Harvard. He served as treasurer on the finance committee in his first two years. His vice president and running mate is neuroscience major Jenny Gan. Both plan on making a difference at the university.

Harris and Gan will be sworn in Dec. 6.

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Events

Happening now: Fundraising benefit for Keeley Ramshur

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Visitors look over auction items at the benefit. (photo by David Day)

A benefit for Keeley Ramshur is in full swing at the Elks Lodge Saturday.

Ramshur, daughter of Toni Buell Ramshur and Joey Ramshur, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer and is undergoing treatment at St. Jude. All proceeds will go toward her medical care.

Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The benefit features live music, pulled pork lunch plates for $10 served until 1 p.m., silent and live auctions and more. You can also enter a raffle for a custom 10/22 Ruger Carbine.

The Elks Lodge is located at 1366 U.S. Highway 61 South.

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