The Man From Mississippi Who Is Meeting the Moment
COMMENTARY

June 21, 2022by Antjuan Seawright, Founder & CEO, Blueprint Strategy LLC
The Man From Mississippi Who Is Meeting the Moment
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its first public hearing to reveal the findings of a year-long investigation, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

On Monday, June 9, Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.,, Chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, introduced himself to the American people in simple and stark terms that underlined not only the critical nature of this committee and its mission, but also the dark division that lies at the heart of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“I was born, raised and still live in Bolton, Mississippi, a town with a population of 521, which is midway between Jackson and Vicksburg … and the Mississippi River,” he explained. “I am from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021.”

Did you catch it? Let me explain.

Born in 1948, 16 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 17 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Thompson was just 15 when a White supremacist gunned down civil rights activist Medgar Evers just 20 miles down the road in Jackson.


He was 16 when domestic terrorists kidnapped, murdered and buried James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in an earthen damn roughly 90 miles away. And only seven when, two hours away in Money, Mississippi, 14-year-old Emmet Till was stolen from his bed, lynched and dumped in the Tallahatchie River because someone thought he’d flirted with a White woman.

You see, Thompson grew up in a violent America in a time and place where Black men, women and children disappeared into the dark swamps for daring to believe in an America where “all men are created equal.” He grew up in a Mississippi with lots of violence and no justice.

But Thompson refused to bow to terrorism.

As a student at Tougaloo College, he organized voter registration drives throughout the Mississippi Delta with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee despite near-constant threats and intimidation.

Campaigning for mayor of Bolton in 1973, he carried a gun rather than succumb to threats from White supremacists and, 34 years later, he led the charge against foreign terrorists creating the 9/11 Commission as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security.


But that’s not all.

As a founding member of the bipartisan Gulf Coast Recovery & Rebuilding Caucus, he pushed for small local business preference for recovery contracts in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita while rooting out waste, fraud and abuse at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He fought for and won passage of legislation creating the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, he is building a new generation of advocates and activists through programs like the Advocacy and Campaign Training Workshops (of which I’m a proud 2012 graduate thanks to Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison) and the Fannie Lou Hamer Scholarship. As Mississippi’s only longest-serving and only Democratic congressman, he is leading the way as an unapologetic champion for civil rights, equal education and health care delivery in Mississippi.

So how does all of this relate to his standing up to lead the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol? Well, he said it best himself.

As Thompson explained in his opening remarks, “We can’t sweep what happened under the rug. The American people deserve answers. So I come before you this evening not as a Democrat, but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t protect just Democrats or just Republicans. It protects all of us. … ‘We the People.’ And this scheme was an attempt to undermine the will of the people.”

You see, Thompson isn’t some member of the “eastern elite.” He isn’t some “special snowflake” afraid of a fight or “Ivy League intellectual” who ignores pragmatic realities in favor of nebulous political strategies.

He’s one of us. He’s still a small-town mayor at heart, a schoolteacher who spent his days fighting for his students instead of focusing on test scores.

He’s one of us. He’s known good times and bad, he’s felt triumph and tragedy, and he’s seen the face of domestic terrorism up close and personal. He grew up with it.


He’s a man from Mississippi rising to meet the moment, a man committed to the oath he took when he first took office: to defend the Constitution, against all enemies: foreign and domestic.


Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea 

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