BILL MINOR: Delta senator built a base of political power

BILL MINOR

BILL MINOR

He’s a cotton-pickin’, bootleg liquor-delivering, vote-hustling, lawsuit-generating, maker of state laws – a standup guy in black skin and tall frame.

That’s a thumbnail sketch of David L. Jordan, otherwise state Sen. Jordan, D-Greenwood, whose 81 years of wide-ranging life took him from Delta cotton fields as a ragtag kid to the state’s imposing Capitol in Jackson.

His memoir, written with help from Robert L. Jenkins, a retired history professor from Mississippi State University, has been published by University Press as part of its Willie Morris Books series.

No question, ambition has driven David Jordan ever since he left his plantation job as cotton picker for 40 cents a pound to do his part to keep food on the family’s table, then, while still a schoolboy, to become a handyman at a country store just outside the city limits.

Remember those were days of Mississippi’s laughable prohibition and the back door of country stores was a common place to dispense bottles of illegal booze, usually a pint or half pint in a paper sack.

Jordan’s parents, mother Elizabeth, and father Cleveland, were an extraordinary black couple for the 1940s and 1950s when David was growing up in the heart of the cotton-rich Delta, the second youngest of five children. They strongly believed in education (even in Leflore County’s strictly segregated system) along with hard work and family loyalty, all virtues which would serve David well for life.

From a failed fifth grader, David’s thirst for education took him to greater heights as a professional educator, teaching courses in high school and later Mississippi Valley State College (now university). While a third-year student at Valley, Jordan decided to see for himself the widely publicized courtroom drama unfolding several miles away in Sumner – the 1955 murder trial of two white men for the brutal murder of a 14-year-old Chicago schoolboy named Emmett Till. Young Till had come down to visit in-laws.

With two other students, Jordan was one of the few blacks allowed into the courtroom for brief periods.

Soon David found his way into politics. even as a school teacher, he was elected to the Greenwood City Council (beating a federal lawsuit challenging his dual office-holding, an issue that would again plague him when he was elected to the state Senate in 1992 and kept his city council post).

In fact, litigation of various kinds seem to have haunted Jordan at every step on his way up the political ladder, while also becoming an honored figure in Democratic politics. Over the years, Jordan has largely drawn his political strength from being the founder and chairman of the Greenwood Voters League, an entity that aspirants for state or national office in Mississippi have learned not to ignore.

He notes that in the present political makeup of the Legislature Republicans have taken control of both the House and Senate and passed the Voter ID bill which black lawmakers opposed. “It still remains a battle at another level that we’ll have to wage,” he concludes. Then he retells his own registration to vote in 1964 when his father, Cleveland, personally took him to the Leflore County circuit clerk’s office. That was just the starting point for Jordon to eventually blossom into a champion of human and political rights for African-Americans.

Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at edinman@earthlink.net.