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Race, politics, and the crumbling water infrastructure in Mississippi's capital city

Crumbling water infrastructure in Jackson
Crumbling water infrastructure in Jackson, Mississippi 01:51

Last February, as back-to-back winter storms buried the deep south in snow and ice, some residents in Jackson, Mississippi, found themselves facing an additional hardship. They had no water running water for weeks.

Ronnie Crudup, a bishop at New Horizon Church in the city, said he was without water for 18 days.

"This [winter storm] was one of the worst in the central part of Mississippi, we don't get a lot of cold weather, and so that made us very, very susceptible," Crudup told 60 Minutes+ correspondent Wesley Lowery. "I had never experienced a point where I saw no water come out of the pipes."

But even without the winter weather, Crudup said, the city's water infrastructure constantly fails its residents.

"If you drive through the city, you're going to see all this water coming up… because the infrastructure is old and decrepit," Crudup said. "It has not been maintained well."

60 Minutes+'s Lowery reports this week on the confluence of race and politics underlying Jackson's deteriorating water system, which is badly in need of an overhaul.

"White flight" in the 70s and 80s created a vicious cycle that saw businesses close in Jackson, prompting cuts in city services due to a lack of tax revenue. Over that time, Jackson went from being 60% White to nearly 60% Black. Now, more than 80% of the city's 160,000 inhabitants are Black.

State officials have developed a reportedly rocky relationship with the city, leading to a lack of investment from the state legislature. Bishop Ronnie Crudup thinks that the city's new racial makeup is likely a factor in its strained relationship with the state.

"You would want your capital city hopefully to be a shining star. You know, sometimes the State and the city legislation and all those folks, they're anti-Jackson, okay?" Crudup said. "Once Jackson became predominantly Black, it had Black leadership-- then it seemed to be a level of tension between the state government and Jackson that may not have been there, okay? That may not be true, but that's sure how I and a number of other folks perceive it…."

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who at 34 was elected the youngest leader in city history, seemed to agree.

"I think that we would be less than honest with ourselves if we did not… just directly confront the issues of race that we have in Mississippi and in the United States," Lumumba said.

Meanwhile, city residents are forced to deal with water outages and advisories to boil their water before cooking, washing their hands or brushing their teeth. The city's public works department can't keep up with the leaks across the city's hundreds of miles of pipes that are, in some cases, brittle to the touch.

See the report on 60 Minutes+, streaming now only on Paramount+.

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