David Green ¡Presente!
One of the strongest advocates for workers in the Mississippi House of Representatives—all workers from state employees to immigrant workers– died late last month. Former State Representative David Green was one of the most effective legislators championing working class issues in recent memory. A founding member of the Mississippi Black Legislative Caucus, he helped guide many of their concerns through the typically rocky legislative process.
Shortly after its founding in 1989 the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees/ CWA needed sponsors for its across-the-board pay raise proposal. Mississippi was ranked 50th in how well public workers were paid. One of the union organizing committee members approached David to lead the effort in the House. He readily agreed. On the Senate side, workers approached the late Senator Alice Harden, who also agreed. Their teamwork won a substantial pay raise in the 1990 legislative session, and continued winning raises for state employees throughout the 1990’s. Their efforts brought Mississippi state workers from 50th to 43rd nationally over the decade.
When MIRA President Jim Evans began serving in the House in 1992, David forged a natural organizing alliance which persuaded the House, and with Sen. Harden helping to lead the fight-back in the Senate, to defeat attempts to privatize much of the Department of Human Services and other public agencies during 1990’s. He joined with Rep. Evans, Sen. Harden and others in the Caucus to vigorously oppose any anti-immigrant legislation introduced by white supremacists in the Mississippi legislature, resulting in the defeat of all of these bad bills.
Rep. Green represented House District 96 in Southwest Mississippi, including Amite, Wilkinson, Pike and Adams counties. This area was one of the most repressive and violent areas of the state. African Americans lived and worked in that area under tremendous oppression. There were numerous beatings, tortures and lynchings of African Americans who whites perceived as troublemakers. Despite this, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) sent organizer Robert Moses to Mississippi where he met a young activist Hollis Watkins in McComb. As organizing developed, local youth assumed leadership beside their elders. On September 25, 1961 voting rights activist Herbert Lee was murdered. All black Burgland High School students were jailed on October 4th in McComb, Mississippi, for leading a walkout of the school in protest of the expulsion of fellow students for civil rights activism. This activity contributed to the organizing of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The story of this area of Mississippi is graphically described in the landmark book “Coming of Age in Mississippi” by Anne Moody, originally published in 1968, and still available in print.
Meanwhile, a little known struggle of lumber and paper workers in the nearby Georgia Pacific plant for dignity and respect on the job and a living wage was organized and led by the workers themselves. As a lumber worker, David Green co-chaired the organizing committee. The effort led to the establishment of one of the first unions of black workers in southwest Mississippi. Later, David became the first black deputy sheriff in Amite County. At first, he was not allowed to carry a firearm as his white counterparts did. Whites still demanded that he step out of the way when approached on a sidewalk in the county seat at Liberty, Mississippi. He reported that he was often spit at by local whites angry that there was a black deputy in their county.
In 1979 he won election to represent the majority African American rural area that made up District 96. In the 1980 legislative session he was joined by a small, but growing number of African American legislators. Later as state workers began organizing, the legacy of the civil rights and union organizing in that area led to some of the largest turnouts of workers mobilizing to press their demands at the state capitol during their lobby days. He greeted scores of immigrant workers and their allies during the Civic Engagement Days organized by MIRA.
Rep. Green served on the House Appropriations Committee, was Chair of the House Fees and Salaries Committee, and Chair of the County Affairs Committee. Whenever he spoke, the House Chamber fell silent and everybody listened. He retired from the House at the end of the 2005 legislative sessions, including a special session following Hurricane Katrina. When he left the Mississippi House of Representatives, he left as one of the most respected House members to ever serve.
For another view of Rep. David Green, see Jack Elliot’s story in the Clarion Ledger.