The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Need for Diversity in the Delta Regional Authority State Alternates and Designees, March 1, 2021

Posted on March 01, 2021 at 05:57 PM

The Delta Caucus is bringing to the attention of the governors of the eight Delta states the need to promote diversity at all levels of the agency. Currently all 10 of the DRA state designees and alternates are whites, and this sends the wrong message for such a diverse region with a large African American population.

The Delta Regional Authority is a federal-state agency. The President appointees the Federal Co-Chairman and Alternate Federal Co-Chairman to the board. On the state side, the eight governors are state board members and they select alternates and designees to help supervise the ongoing legwork for the agency’s mission of community and economic development for the eight-state region. The full-time career staff play a crucial role, of course.

The Delta areas of these states have very large African American populations, so we are asking all eight governors to add African Americans to the state designee and/or alternate posts. All these posts should not be held by white individuals.

We need to make absolutely clear that we support the DRA and believe that it is doing a fine job for the region on the whole. We feel sure this is just an oversight that will soon be corrected regarding the state designees and alternates.

Delta Caucus partners were involved in creating the DRA in 2000, and over the past 20 years we opposed efforts by President George W. Bush, President Donald Trump and others to abolish it or slash its funding. Now in the Biden-Harris administration we believe there is a great opportunity to expand and improve the agency. It should have a much larger budget than the currently small 28 million to help fight poverty in a region of 10 million people.

We have sent messages in the spirit of constructive advice to all eight governors and hope to get feedback from all of them.

We would like to express our appreciation to Clint O’Neal, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission as well as being the DRA designee for Arkansas, for expeditiously responding to the letter and indicating he will take up this matter with Gov. Asa Hutchinson. We will report back on his response as soon as we receive it, along with responses from the other governors.

Unfortunately we have not yet received any response from the other seven governors. This is disappointing. They need to at least have a dialogue about this issue.

We are not blaming anyone at this point, but just calling to the governors’ attention the unfortunate–to put it diplomatically–situation were all 10 state designees and alternates are white.

Now, of course the voters determine who the governors of the eight states are. All eight governors happen to be white, but we are not addressing that here because, again, those were the voters’ decisions.

Please look at the DRA website at and you will see the 10 white state designees and alternates along with the eight governors. In total, we see 18 white faces in the leadership positions for a highly diverse region. Below in this message see data on the large African American populations in the region.

Six of the eight states currently have only one post filled, either an alternate or designee filled, so we would encourage them to add an African American appointee as soon as possible.

Tennessee and Alabama currently have both state appointed posts filled, so we are encouraging them to appoint an African American at the next opening in those posts.

With the sad history of racial oppression in the Greater Delta along with the hard-fought but obviously incomplete progress that has been made in the last 50 years, we would really urge the DRA to promote diversity at all levels of its structure.

On the federal side, President Biden and Vice President Harris have of course only recently assumed office and are filling posts now, but have understandably not yet gotten to the DRA posts. There is some Congressional opposition to some of their nominees, so that is delaying matters.

We would encourage the Biden-Harris administration to appoint an African American–preferably a woman–to the Federal Co-Chairman post, and in the spirit of diversity to appoint a white male to the Alternate Federal Co-Chair post. Diversity of course means that whites, African Americans and all people should be represented.

With President Biden having appointed substantial numbers of minorities thus far and Vice President Harris being the first African American and the first woman to be Vice President of the United States, we would expect that they will be amenable to having one African American and one white male in the top two posts at the DRA.

Unfortunately, thus far in its history since being created in 2001 all of the six individuals who have held either the Federal Co-Chair or Alternate Federal Co-Chair posts have been white males. For such a diverse region, this was tone-deaf. The Biden-Harris administration can remedy this problem by bringing an African American to the DRA now in the name of diversity.

Some people have expressed the view that since there are only two DRA Presidential posts, perhaps it might be better to spread those opportunities to new appointees rather than give them again to people who have already had the opportunity to serve at the DRA–HOWEVER–there are others who make a good case that if one of the individuals wanted to serve again and was paired with a new person who had not yet served at the DRA, that would be fine. We could see it going either way–SO YOU DECIDE.

We understand that the full-time career staff includes African Americans and we would encourage that trend to continue.

We do not make these recommendations in a rigid, mechanical way. If, for example, the Biden-Harris administration were to nominate a well-qualified white male as Federal Co-Chairman and an African American woman as Alternate Federal Co-Chairman, that would also be a positive combination regarding racial and gender diversity.

The DRA Presidential appointees should be people who have a long track record of dedication to, involvement in, and knowledge of the Delta’s community and economic development. It is not our intention here to do a “sales job” for any particular individuals, but just to present a couple of examples of people who are well qualified, we would mention Millie Atkins, an African American community leader from Monroe, Louisiana, long-time executive in the private sector, and veteran Delta regional advocate. Similarly, we would mention Mike Marshall, veteran Delta regional advocate, formerly Alternate Federal Co-Chair at DRA, currently CEO and Executive Director of the Sikeston, Missouri Regional Chamber and Economic Development Corp. Either Ms.Atkins or Mr. Marshall would be fine examples of well-qualified candidates for either of the posts, although there will be a large number of candidates. We will work with whomever the Biden-Harris administration chooses.

Diversity means that we need to include whites as well as minorities. But we can all agree that 10 appointees of one race and zero of the other is a far cry from reasonable diversity.

Just for the record, we would like to clarify that Delta Caucus Director Lee Powell has taken himself out of the running for Federal Co-Chairman for the obvious reason that he advocates in favor of the appointment of an African American to that post. While he indicated he could consider the Alternate Federal Co-Chair post if it should be offered–provided that the other Presidential appointee goes to an African American–that is very unlikely. Powell indicates that he is happy to stay where he is at the Delta Caucus. We mention this because a number of people jumped to the conclusion that Powell was actively campaigning for the DRA Federal Co-Chair post when in fact that is not the case.

We welcome everybody to contact the Biden administration or the White House Presidenitial Personnel Office and recommend a well-qualified candidate for the DRA posts. These are the taxpayers’ jobs and everybody is free to weigh in.



Statewide percentage of African Americans is 32.2%

Delta areas are even much higher:

New Orleans’ population is 59% black.

Tallulah, Louisiana in the northeast Delta is 77% black

Monroe, Louisiana–one of our larger cities–is more than 50% black.


Statewide population is 37.7% black.

The heart of the Delta area in Mississippi is the Second Congressional District represented by Rep. Bennie Thompson, and it is approximately 65% black.


Statewide percentage is 15.4% black.

However, the non-Delta western part of the state is heavily white.

Little Rock is 42.1% black. We consider Little Rock part of the region, especially its diverse, economically challenged neighorhoods.

Pine Bluff is 75% black.

Helena, Forrest City and many other eastern and southeastern Arkansas areas have very high African American percentages of the population.

The Second District that contains a substantial part of the Delta is 19.4% black.

The First Congressional District is 16.6% black. The southern and eastern parts of that district have much higher lack populations.


Statewide population is 17.1% black.

However, Memphis is the heart of the west Tennessee Delta, and it is 64% black.

Another larger community in western Tennessee is Jackson at 49%.


Statewide percentage is 26.8% black.

The Alabama Black Belt is included in the DRA because it is demographically, socially, economically and historically similar to the heart of the Delta region.

The Alabama Black Belt is 52.24% black.

Selma, Alabama is 80.3% black.

(HISTORICAL NOTE–The Alabama Black Belt originally received its name because of the rich, dark soil that produced such bountiful crops. After the influx of large numbers of African Americans during the slavery and Jim Crow eras, it acquired a different connotation in many people’s minds as having the “Black Belt” refer to the large number of African Americans who lived there.)


The “Delta portion” of Missouri, as is also the case with western Kentucky and southern Illinois, is such a small percentage of the state’s population that statewide figures do not mean very much.

The key southern Illinois city of Sikeston is about 25% black.

Caruthersville in the Missouri Bootheel is 39% black.

The Delta counties of Pemiscot (26.1%, Mississippi County (24.7%), and New Madrid (15.8%) have substantial African American populations.


The key southern Illinois city of Carbondale is 25% black.

Some southern Illinois counties have very small African American populations, such as Williamson, Union and Faulkner, all at 5% or less.

Perry, Jefferson and Jackson counties in southern Illinois have 15% or less black populations.


Kentucky as a whole is only 8% black and some DRA areas of the state have small African American populations.

The key western Kentucky city of Paducah is 21.77% black.

Fuller County is 24.2% black and Union County is 13.4% black. Most other western Kentucky counties have substantially smaller black populations.