The Mississippi Delta_
The Mississippi Delta is a part of the larger Mississippi River Valley, which extends along the Mississippi River from Illinois, south to Louisiana. With its fertile alluvial soil, it attracted the highest concentration of the United States’ antebellum slave plantations, meaning it also had the highest concentration of African slaves, who made up the vast majority of the Delta’s population. Still the majority demographic throughout much of the Delta, with the region’s land and wealth distribution relatively the same, its politics remain colored by the historic subjugation and control of African-Americans, their exclusion from citizenship, from its rights and speech, and from becoming the region’s political majority.

Training Schools_ The “training schools” are prisons, whose population—age 11 to 19—are organized under the generalized ethic of paramilitary regimentation and discipline: a “boot camp.” Mississippi has two, Oakley and Columbia. Demographically, their population averages 60 percent black; 35 percent white; 5 percent Asian, Native American and “other.” Columbia holds girls as well as boys. Their creation in the 1990s represented a political intersection between the U.S.’ growing faith in military and carceral solutions alike, in their generous application to any and all social and political problems, as seen in both the unprecedented levels of imprisoned Americans, its wars and the increasing militarization of daily life, in which the model of the boot camp has even become a theme within the personal fitness industry.

Christian Academies_ Christian Academies are private schools that in the South, date back to the Federal enforcement of de-segregation. In an attempt to maintain the separation that had been achieved by Jim Crowe institutions—as public institutions from which black children were excluded—the academies are one way that that same separation was maintained by white communities after de-segregation, by withdrawing from the public and forming instead a private sphere of institutions and social life, in this case behind the rationale of religious-based education.

Church Schools_ What are commonly known as Church Schools throughout the South were grassroots schools that black communities had formed for themselves, typically in churches, as their children were denied access to public schools, pushed outside the space of the public and state. Despite their exclusion and the historical prohibition of black literacy and communications, church schools remained vehicles for the intergenerational transmission of knowledge and culture in many forms, including its liberation theologies.

Haley Barbour_ Haley Barbour was elected Mississippi governor in 2003. A former head of the Republican National Committee and full-time Washington DC lobbyist for the tobacco industry, Barbour was campaigned for vigorously by George W. Bush (for whom Barbour had previously been an advisor) within the Bush administration’s larger push to spread post-Reagan Republican dominance throughout the South. Representative of the convergence between Southern, neo-liberal finance capital and the ascendant Christian Right, among Barbour’s key agendas is the privatization of public services, including the securing of contracts for investment interests who seek to profit from the state’s growing prison system, including Mississippi’s training schools.

Potential Speech_ Assertions, claims, demands that intend to effect life, to matter, to “have some say”; so that speech matters as “speech” (political speech—that “speech” which is supposed to be “free”), an utterance must be accompanied by power. Its speaker must have power; or someone with power willing to “hear” it. With all communication, there is the question as to whether it will be listened to or received; whether or not it will “count”; whether it will matter. As “potential energy” is the energy that an object has stored within it, ready to do something, to move, to fall, to spring, to explode, potential speech might be that which has an intention, a demand, an appeal or claim to power, before being endowed with power or codified into a system of political representation.

Public Hearings_ An interaction between a political body and a public, in which representatives of the political body gather to “hear” the public; a symbolic ritual in which this act of listening is intended to confirm the state’s (the powerful’s) response-ability to citizens’ political speech. This performance however should not be confused with whether or not the state actually does listen, as historically this gesture is merely that: a gesture, a symbolic listening which ultimately keeps the majorities of the public outside “the gates,” removed from the halls of power, kept from the space of political struggle and excluded from policy-making. In 2004, Mississippi began a series of hearings in which the state is investigating citizens’ experiences with the “training schools.” The Department of Human Services, the state body responsible for the training schools, is continually fending off evidence and claims of abuse and neglect lodged by parents and community members, including a coalition of citizens’ groups called the Mississippi Prevention of Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Coalition, which demand the training schools closed and connect the criminalization of Mississippi youth and the rampant decline of public education and services.
[see background]