Delta Study to Seek ‘Decade of Action’

From Associated Press

A federal commission that has studied the Mississippi Delta for 18 months will offer a formula for improvement in its report to Congress Monday.

The Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission will call for greater regional cooperation through environmental compacts and university research programs, extra efforts to steer pupils toward college, “leadership training” to dispel 19th-Century attitudes that have held the Delta back, and further government aid.

While emphasizing that more help from the federal government is needed, Govs. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Buddy Roemer of Louisiana and Ray Mabus of Mississippi, all members of the commission, said they won’t be asking for a quick fix or a vast, New Deal sort of program.

“If there is a peace dividend . . . you want to invest in America. Why not start here?” Roemer asked.


“The work of this commission is not about handouts, though. It’s about giving choices and some options to people who too often feel they have none,” he said.

Added Wilbur Hawkins, the federal commission’s executive director: “We bail out the savings and loans; we send millions to Poland and to Panama. I just don’t want this nation, for the first time in its history, to say we can’t help the unfortunate.”

The Memphis-based commission has not escaped controversy. Black leaders noted angrily that all nine of its appointed members are white men, even though a third of the Delta population is black. (Director Hawkins, hired after the uproar, is black.)

The commission has spent $3 million on its study. The panel is modeled after past federal bodies formed to deal with regional problems, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Clinton, the commission chairman, said he believes the report to be released Monday will be unique in government.

“It will be a handbook for a decade of action,” he said. “We want a report that says what the national government is supposed to do, what the state governments are supposed to do, the local governments and private sector.”

Tourism is one resource the commission hopes to help develop, officials said. Marketing will be another; some commissioners hope for Common Market-type cooperation among the states, and perhaps even a trademark and promotional campaign for Delta products.

“People on Wall Street see more attractive investments in Venezuela than in the Mississippi Delta, and that’s a marketing problem,” said Stan Hyland, a Memphis State University anthropologist working on the commission staff.

“We’ve got to put in place incentives to bring our youth back home, and our capital back home,” Hawkins said. “We can’t afford to take just a Band-Aid approach.”