One year ago, on Oct. 19th, the Caddo Parish Commission voted 7-to-5 to remove a Confederate monument that has loomed over the entrance to the parish courthouse since 1906, more than a half a century after the end of the Civil War. The decision to remove that monument, coming in the immediate aftermath of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s controversial decision to rid his city of prominent tributes to Confederate leaders, is even more remarkable considering the ways in which Caddo Parish has glorified the Lost Cause movement more than anywhere else in the state.
Shreveport was, infamously, the last city in the American South to admit defeat by officially lowering the Confederate flag.
In an essay published by The Bayou Brief last December, Jennifer Hill brilliantly and exhaustively documented Shreveport’s brutally and shamefully racist past.
“As most of us recognize, the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves did not mean freedom for African-Americans, and it especially did not mean that in Caddo Parish,” Hill writes. “In the decade following the Civil War, white men in Caddo Parish were killing and terrorizing African-Americans in such high numbers that the parish earned the name, ‘Bloody Caddo.’”
Although many people deserve credit and praise for their tireless work to remove a monument to white supremacy that stands like a guard in front of the courthouse doors, most Shreveporters understand that had it not been for the extraordinary and courageous leadership of a 32-year-old African American, the effort would have never succeeded. That young leader was Caddo Parish Commission President Steven Jackson, who is now running to become the city’s next mayor.
“That moment meant to me we were closing a very dark chapter in Caddo Parish,” Jackson told The Bayou Brief immediately after the vote.
“It was a smoke signal to the rest of Louisiana and the country that we are a more inclusive, tolerant, and progressive parish than we were when an all-white police jury in 1903 agreed to place the monument,” he said.
If elected, Jackson would not be the youngest mayor ever elected in Shreveport; that distinction belongs to the late Mayor Jim Gardner, who was elected in 1954 at the age of only 30. Although Gardner only served a single term in the mayor’s office, he is often credited as being the city’s most consequential and visionary leader of the twentieth century. When he lost his bid for reelection, The Shreveport Times published an extraordinary tribute.
“He is clearly Shreveport’s ‘first citizen.’ That truth does not, nor should not diminish any other person, for there are truly others in this community whose contributions have been grand,” the paper gushed. “But Jim Gardner has been a giant in our midst. He was the rare combination of theoretician and practitioner. His keen mind developed the ideals to fullness on the frontlines of politics as a legislator, mayor and city councilman.”
Like Jackson, Gardner received his education here in Louisiana; like Jackson, Gardner first became a leader in his community when he was only in his early twenties, and like Jackson, Jim Gardner was always, relentlessly and proudly, a champion of the people of Shreveport. Instead of retreating from public life following his defeat in 1958 and until his death in 2010, Gardner found other ways to serve the people of Shreveport and became a mentor to countless others, including Cedric Glover, the city’s first-ever African American mayor.
It may surprise some Shreveporters to learn how young Jackson is, because he has been in the public arena for longer than many of the other candidates. It may also surprise some that Jackson is actually the youngest candidate on the ballot; Adrian Perkins, who has made his youth and educational pedigree at the center of his campaign, is nearly a year older.
We are impressed by Perkins’ educational accomplishments and deeply respect his service to our country as a Captain and Company Commander in the Army. We are not convinced, however, that Perkins has yet acquired the education and experience necessary to lead a city of 192,000 people with a $220 million annual budget. Perkins only returned to Shreveport earlier this year, after spending nearly fifteen years away, and instead of first announcing his intention to seek public office in Shreveport to the people of Shreveport, he published a letter in the Harvard Crimson; only months prior, Perkins told another Harvard publication he was considering a career in technology law in California.
Jackson, meanwhile, may not have an Ivy League degree, but over the past decade, he has earned an invaluable education in learning and solving the problems that plague his hometown. As a member and as President of the Caddo Parish Commission, Jackson has earned the bipartisan support of his colleagues on a range of issues.
Consider what Republican Caddo Parish Commissioner Matthew Linn recently wrote in a letter to The Shreveport Times endorsing Jackson for mayor:
Steven has consistently shown himself to be a creative problem solver, a brave leader and a person of integrity. And throughout this year’s campaign, I believe he has laid out the most thoughtful, most detailed, most ambitious and most credible platform of all the candidates.
As a Republican, I generally favor slightly-to-the-right policies which keep government spending low and hold public officials and employees accountable. Commissioner Jackson’s legislative record is extraordinary in this regard.
In his first year in office, Jackson introduced, and with his one additional vote, passed bills which canceled annual pay raises for commissioners, prevented commissioners from receiving public retirement funds and slashed bloated commission travel allowances (this makes Steven the only candidate for mayor who has actually voted himself a pay cut).
There is a reason incumbent Mayor Ollie Tyler has generated such a crowded field of opponents. While she is genuinely likable and has experienced and survived more than her fair share of personal trauma, she has proven to be incapable of assembling a leadership team that understands the nuts and bolts of municipal governance and articulating a message that ensures residents are informed about the high stakes of something as simple as a millage renewal.
Shreveport, like many other cities in Louisiana, is plagued by violent crime, and the next mayor must understand both how to immediately address a law enforcement culture that, fairly or not, appears woefully out-of-touch with the community it serves and the long-term problems that create the conditions for crime to flourish.
In every candidate forum, Jackson has demonstrated a command of those issues: Persistent poverty, institutional barriers that African Americans often face when applying for a decent job, a struggling educational system, and a lack of empathy for the city’s most vulnerable children and young adults. Many white conservatives may prefer Republican candidate Jim Taliaferro, who has made his law enforcement background the centerpiece of his campaign, but the notion that crime can only be addressed by treating an American city as if it is an active combat zone or in need of militarization, a message implied by recent endorsements issued by Taliaferro’s campaign, has been proven in countless cities across the country to only exacerbate the divisions that contribute to violence. Similarly, Perkins, a Democrat, has articulated a crime prevention plan that draws on his military experience and conflates the issues of urban violent crime with war against enemies of the United States.
While Taliaferro and Perkins have both admirably served our country in the military (and Perkins frequently tells audiences of an early memory he has about hiding under his bed in fear of nearby gang violence), only Steven Jackson has experienced, first-hand, what it means to lose family members to violent crime in Shreveport. He does not dramatize it, nor does he exploit it to gain a political advantage, but the truth is that Steven lost both his brother and his father to violent crime.
For most of us, the ability to endure such tragedies without losing our sense of empathy and without becoming consumed by cynicism and despair would seem nearly impossible, but for Steven, it has strengthened his resolve and provided him with the unique ability to approach the issue of crime prevention with a thorough understanding of its complexities. Yes, Shreveport desperately needs more officers and improved technology, but it also must understand the ways in which crime, race, and poverty are so inextricably connected.
There is one final reason we recommend Steven Jackson, and it may be the most important thing for voters to consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. On Aug. 17th, Jackson received a violently threatening piece of hate mail at his family home. “LEAVE OUR STATUE & PROPERTY ALONE & GET OUT OF THE RACE N*****,” the letter read, underneath a famous campaign image of former President Barack Obama, superimposed with Jackson’s face and captioned with one word, “ROPE.”
Jackson could have erupted with anger, and he would have been well-justified in doing so. He could have also allowed the letter to intimidate him and decide to withdraw, citing concern for his safety and the safety of his family. He could have been dispirited and turned his campaign negative. But that isn’t what he did.
Instead, Steven Jackson held a press conference that afternoon, and he said something remarkable, something that perfectly illustrates why we are so proud to make Steven Jackson of Shreveport, Louisiana the very first candidate we have ever recommended for office.
“To the persons who place these racist messages at our doorstep, we love you,” he said. “We want to let you know we love you.”