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.

“Delta Vision, Delta Voices”

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“If we cannot fully develop the Delta now when we have the strongest economy in our lifetime, when will we ever get around to it? The story needs to go out across America. This is a good investment….America needs to…recognize that the best new market for American products and for American investment is right here in the U.S. of A.”

President William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton
Clarksdale, Mississippi
July 6, l999

William Faulkner once wrote of the Delta, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” Yet, the Delta is as much about the future as about the past. It is about promise—and challenge. It is about the unexplored potential of its citizens who want a future that enables them to share in the country’s growth and prosperity. It is about what President Clinton calls the need “to widen the circle of opportunity and ensure that people throughout the Delta region have a full partnership in America’s future.”

As President Clinton has repeated forcefully in seeking to provide assistance to the Delta “the citizens of this region have not participated fairly and fully in the unprecedented prosperity we have enjoyed as a nation.” The region has suffered from persistent poverty, a “sluggish” economy, and a legacy of racial segregation. While real progress is recognized—as this Report will discuss—the focus of Delta Vision, Delta Voices is to address the agenda that remains unfinished and to suggest, plan for and implement the important next steps—such as fulfilling the Administration’s efforts to expand funding for the region and support creation of a permanent regional commission.

Claiming its place in the tide of economic progress is the key challenge and opportunity for the people of the Delta and for America’s public, private and non-profit sectors within and beyond the Delta. As Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert stated recently in Chicago with President Clinton, “America can’t ignore the people who have been left behind.”

Background for New Action (The Decade of the 1990s)
The global revolution of the last decade has created possibilities for economic growth and social change that simply did not exist before. As Gutenberg revolutionized access to the written word through the printing press in the 1400s, once again the world has been revolutionized in our lifetime through the incredible reach and potential of the Internet and the impact of globalization and open borders. We must seize the moment and take full advantage of this extraordinary telecommunications and social revolution to reach those in America for whom access to improved communications and economic tools has not been adequately realized. Taking part in the information revolution is essential to new business development, education, and quality of life. In America, nowhere is this truer than in the Delta. Understanding this, President Clinton and Vice President Gore have set a national goal—with special attention to the country’s poorest schools—of ensuring that every child is technologically literate and every classroom and library connected to the Internet.

As then Administrator Slater Stated in Linking the Delta Region with the Nation and the World in 1995, the President’s 1990 Commission goals for the Delta helped foretell and mark this Administration’s signature policy actions: investing in education, training and the environment; targeting tax relief to working families; protecting the essential Medicare and Medicaid programs; and tighter and more focused coordination of Federal programs for local purposes. Other major Clinton-Gore initiatives have had a direct impact on the Delta as well. The following highlights three initiatives of special national and regional significance in addition to the new Empowerment Zones, Enterprise Communities and Champion Communities and a range of other innovative community-focused programs essential to the Delta’s economic life, which will be discussed in the body of the Report.

The New Markets Initiative
President Clinton’s FY 2001 balanced budget provides funding for this new initiative designed to create the conditions for economic success by prompting approximately $22 billion over the next 10 years in new investment in rural and urban areas. This will be accomplished through: new tax credits; the recently created American Private Investment Companies (similar to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) encouraging private investment and community development in untapped, needy and promising regions of the country; new venture capital and small business investment initiatives; micro-enterprise lending and technical assistance; and the expansion of a range of ongoing initiatives designed to create more attractive conditions for new economic investment in the Delta.

The New Markets initiative is designed to bring both jobs and opportunity to struggling areas and dedicated to leveling the playing field by first raising it. President Clinton has traveled to these untapped “New Markets” accompanied by CEOs, Cabinet members, local officials and community leaders. In July 1999, he visited Clarksdale, Mississippi where he announced an additional $15 million in new community development grants for the Delta. In Chicago, he was joined by U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert to announce the joining of the President’s “New Markets” initiative and the Republican’s “Renewable Communities” proposal to focus on steering investment to America’s neediest communities. As the President stated in Hermitage, Arkansas, in early November, we are working “to try and get a common approach to bringing economic opportunity to poor communities.” As the President continues his New Markets tour in the Delta and elsewhere, the Administration seeks a bipartisan effort to help move along the policy recommendations and funding requested for the Delta region and contained in this Report.

One America Race Initiative
“One America” is the President’s initiative on race designed to create diverse, value-based communities in America in which differences are respected and celebrated, by involving community leaders in a thoughtful, respectful dialogue of trust and idea sharing. In June 1997, President Clinton announced the “One America in the 21st Century” initiative designed to help shape an America based on “opportunity for all, responsibility from all, and one community of all Americans.” Having recognized that in areas of our country the legacy of racism can be especially destructive to forming the community linkages necessary for building cooperation and prosperity, the President has pursued eliminating the “opportunity gaps” that continue to exist in the Delta and elsewhere.

Millennium Trails Initiative
Celebrating America’s rich history and exciting future, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton designated l6 National Millennium Trails in June l999. These trails are part of the White House Millennium Council’s efforts to stimulate national and local activities to “honor the past and imagine the future.” These trails connect our nation’s rich history with its resources, its people, and its culture and open the prospect of economic renaissance in the future. A number of these trails are in the South and located throughout areas of the Delta. Two of special significance for the Delta are: The Mississippi River Trail, which follows the nation’s longest river from New Orleans to Minneapolis with a bike path that will touch upon the historic, cultural, natural and habitat richness of the Mississippi River Valley; and The Civil War Discovery Trail, which identifies and thematically connects the battlefields, military routes and sites of historic significance in our country’s most tragic period of domestic struggle. This trail provides an important historic lens for understanding and healing through which Americans today and tomorrow can understand the message of redeeming by charity, and rejecting malice in both victory and defeat.

Grassroots regional initiatives: In April 1998, various key Delta organizations formed the Southern EZ/EC Forum Delta Regional Initiative, an outgrowth of the Empowerment Zones, Enterprise Communities, and USDA Champion Communities that are designed to create innovative solutions to persistent community problems of endemic poverty, high unemployment and general economic distress. The Forum pledged its cooperation to focus on economic revitalization in the Delta and to work together to coordinate government-wide action to raise the quality of life along the lower Mississippi. Vice President Albert Gore, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman witnessed the signing of the unprecedented Delta cooperation pact. Shortly thereafter, Secretary Slater convened the conference in Memphis in which the Delta MOU was signed by 10 Federal agencies, with nine more joining the process the following year.

The Delta Compact is a collaborative, capacity-building public/private sector initiative that grew out of the l990 Commission recommendations and was initiated in August 1998 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Housing Assistance Council. This compact initially focused on the Delta’s southernmost areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, but has now expanded to include all seven Delta States. The 50 Delta organizations have been active in seeking to improve non-profit community-based organizations’ capacity to promote housing and economic development, increase the technological capacity of Delta institutions, deliver financing and improve access to credit, and encourage better and more communication and collaboration among Delta constituencies.

Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study: Also in 1998, the Mississippi Delta region Heritage Study was presented to Congress. The study identified important Civil War and Civil Rights sites, explored the historical and cultural impact of American Indians, African-Americans, early European explorers, and many others, and suggested opportunities to enhance tourism through the development of trails and museums as well as site interpretation and protection. This study, a product of a joint effort by Federal, State, local and tribal governments and communities, non-profits and private organizations, examined the region’s natural, cultural and recreational resources.

National Underground Network to Freedom Act: With strong bipartisan support, the Administration and Congress agreed to pass a program within the National Park Service designed to link all the Underground Railroad sites in the nation to commemorate this first broad effort to free slaves in America. This program raises awareness and understanding of this courageous social movement, while creating new tourist development opportunities. Many sites exist throughout the Delta.

Delta Voices
Direct participation by citizens of the Delta has been a consistent theme—welcomed, encouraged and facilitated as we have moved to update and broaden our research and outreach. It is a theme that will continue throughout all our efforts. This Report is a “living document” to which the Delta’s citizens can continue to contribute their thoughts and ideas through written contributions, as well as through participation in the Delta Website and the new Delta “800” Number. The new “user-friendly” Department of Transportation Delta website ( and the toll free Delta number (888-273-4117) hold great potential, especially for intra-Delta and citizen/Federal-local communication. The website provides a map and listing of the Delta-region counties, reports and information, as well as useful links for identifying grant programs and other Delta-related resources. It must be stressed that the website was created in the fall of 1999 and is in its infancy, but significant expansion of the website is envisaged as a key information and resource tool.

The Clinton-Gore Administration also has held a series of conferences and listening sessions in the region since 1993. Several notable examples have been discussed already: the meeting in New Orleans in April, 1998 in which Vice President Gore, Secretary Slater and Secretary Dan Glickman witnessed the signing of the Southern EZ/EC Forum pact of cooperation with the Delta EZ/ECs and a coalition of grassroots organizations; Secretary Slater’s July, 1998 conference in Memphis, where the Delta MOU was signed; and the President’s frequent conferences in the region, such as his trips to Clarksdale, Mississippi as well as Helena, Hermitage and West Memphis, Arkansas and many other conferences.

Listening sessions: To continue these efforts, the Department of Transportation held public listening sessions in the Delta during the fall of 1999 to provide input and data for Delta Vision, Delta Voices. Day-long listening sessions were organized and publicized around the Delta: West Memphis, Arkansas on September 25; Baton Rouge, Louisiana on October 1; Vicksburg, Mississippi on October 2; and Cape Girardeau, Missouri on October 4. These sessions were designed around the “open space” concept, which enabled dynamic participation of approximately 600 participants who attended these sessions. The focus was on information-sharing, finding common ground, and identifying opportunities for action and change. Federal officials from the region and from Washington participated in all sessions and many individuals who were not able to participate have also submitted and offered their comments. In addition to these listening sessions, many other smaller meetings were held throughout the region.

The “Voices of the Delta” section includes a concise statement summarizing the reflections gleaned from these sessions. The majority of this section of this Report includes a series of other contributions from grassroots organizations; private business; Governors; Members of Congress from the region; Delta representatives from the President’s Commission on 21st Century Agriculture; groups focusing on transportation issues such as “The I-69 Initiative”; the Delta Race Relations Consortium and other groups interested in diversity issues; and other voices from the region.

“The government can provide a helping hand to assist these areas in growing their economy and moving toward prosperity. That’s why I’ve joined Senator Blanche Lincoln, Congressman Marion Berry and other members from affected States in introducing legislation that will create a Federal-State organization to promote economic growth in the Mississippi Delta region.”

U.S. Senator Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas

Outreach to grassroots organizations: Further outreach has included the crucial regional grassroots organizations of the Delta. To name just a few examples, these organizations include the Southern EZ/EC Forum, the Delta Compact, the Delta Caucus, the Delta Council, the Lower Mississippi Delta Development Center, the Mid-South Delta Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and many others. The Mid-South Delta LISC sponsors an array of initiatives for supporting housing, job creation and community development in the Delta. LISC channels private resources from corporations and foundations to community development corporations for these projects. During the fall of 1999, it held a major conference in Tunica, Mississippi attended by Federal and local officials from throughout the region, providing another source of information for the Administration.

The Delta Caucus is a grassroots movement of legislators, city, town, county and parish officials and citizens from the Delta seeking to build public awareness of the region and its unique needs. The Caucus organized a visit to Washington in early October 1999 and 150 concerned Delta citizens met with high-level White House officials and went to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress and staff to discuss the program needs of the Delta and funding. In its early stages the Caucus was focused primarily in Arkansas, but is now expanding its efforts in all seven States in the region. As Arkansas State Legislator Kevin Smith has stated, the poverty statistics in the Delta continue to “cry out for national attention.”

These are only a few of the many grassroots organizations consulted by the Delta 2000 Initiative, and these organizations are discussed throughout this Report. All of this input provides essential material and insight into the ideas, recommendations and emphases included in this Report and to close what Reverend Jesse Jackson calls “the resource gap” that exists in the Delta today.

The “Voices of the Delta” section presents the views of private citizens, business leaders, officials and observers keenly interested or intimately involved in the Delta—past, present and future—who have provided their reactions, insights, concerns and reflections on the region’s promise, challenges, disappointments, and even action priorities. Success stories and meaningful action in the Delta also serve to demonstrate the commitment of the Delta’s citizens to their future.

The Future
As President Clinton stated in July, 1999 during his trip to Clarksdale, Mississippi, “everybody…has a selfish interest now in developing the Delta…because as most economists believe…if we’re going to keep our economic recovery going without inflation, the only way we can possibly do it is to find more customers for our products and then add more workers at home. [In the Delta]…you get both in the same place,” said the President. “You get more workers and more consumers. So it’s good for the rest of America as well.”

Specific Delta actions have been taken in the 1990s and are being planned and recommended for implementation over the next five years and beyond, as this Report will describe. It is clear these actions will require concerted action and funding by both the private and the public sectors at all levels. Yet, to be fully realized, much more must be done. To get to where we need to go will require the imposing talents and energy not only of the Delta’s citizens, but the vision and commitment of our regional and national leaders—now and in the future.