Bennie Thompson: Three facts about the Black congressman leading the Jan. 6 hearings Blacks should pay attention to

Bennie Thompson leads the Jan. 6 hearings. Image via WPBS

The January 6 Capitol siege unfolded last year while the Senate and House of Representatives had convened to certify the state results of the presidential election which saw Joe Biden emerge as the winner. The rioters had earlier gathered in the nation’s capital to protest the results of the presidential elections citing baseless accusations of fraud which had been propagated by former president Donald Trump.

The rioting was also spurred by a speech Trump gave while addressing them as he reiterated the election was fraudulent and called on the protesters to “walk down to the Capitol.” When House Democrats moved last year to create the select committee to investigate how the Capitol attack occurred, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson was seen as the perfect person to lead the committee thanks to his leadership skills and his background in civil rights activism.

Thompson’s committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans has now begun a series of public hearings to show Americans what happened on January 6 by providing witness testimonies and revealing new evidence that aides say will show that Trump was at the center of a “coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”

More importantly, Black people should pay attention to the hearings, as whatever happened on January 6 was not a white man’s problem but a fight against racism. Those who attacked the Capitol were racists and racism should have no place in American society. What’s more, telling the full story of the Capitol attack means preserving democracy. Democracy is linked to the freedoms of Blacks. Those freedoms will be no more if democracy is ruined, experts say.

At the first hearing on Thursday, Thompson, chair of the House select committee investigating the January 6 riots, called the attack a “culmination of an attempted coup”, adding that it was a “sprawling multistep conspiracy aimed at overturning the election, aimed at overturning the votes of millions of Americans.”

Mississippi Democratic Rep. Thompson has spent more than 50 years in politics but he has said that leading this month’s hearings will be his “signature work” as he is poised to defend his country’s democracy and government. Having lived in the Jim Crow south, Thompson saw how many Mississippians lost their lives over the right to vote. So he knows how important it is for one to have the right to vote and for that vote to be counted accurately.

Here are some other facts you should know about the Black congressman:

He went to school only attended by Black students

Thompson grew up in the rural town of Bolton in Mississippi where he always passed by two schools for whites to attend a school for only Black students. The “Bolton Colored School” had no library, no new books, no cafeteria, no indoor plumbing and other basic things a school would need. Thompson in fact grew up without being taught by a White teacher until he got to Tougaloo College in 1964, which would serve as a refuge for activists during the Civil Rights Movement and became the main gathering place for organizers in Mississippi.

The Black Power movement also appealed to college students including Thompson, who soon started fighting for equal access for Black people in education and at the ballot box. Racial discrimination had not allowed his fellow Blacks including his late father to vote, so he started registering voters in his hometown. 

He became Bolton’s first Black mayor

Thompson overcame racial barriers to become an alderman in his hometown at 21 and became the first Black mayor there in 1973. He then served as Hinds County Supervisor before getting elected in 1993 to represent his district in Congress. 

Today, he is the only Democrat and the only Black member of the Mississippi congressional delegation, representing one of the poorest districts in the country, according to CNN. Thompson is also the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and since last year, he has been serving as chairman of the January 6 committee.

“Chairman Thompson is the chair of one of the committees of jurisdiction, Homeland Security, and this was an assault on our homeland security and he commands a great deal of respect in our caucus and I’m very proud of what he is doing,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NPR.

Thompson has not had it easy getting to where he is now. He recalled to CNN recently that when he became Bolton’s first Black mayor after winning the election by just 18 votes, a white challenger sued him. “People said somehow I cheated, that it couldn’t be a lawful election,” Thompson recounted. “Fast forward. Some of the same comments that I heard back then resonated on January 6th.” 

Back when he won a seat on the board of aldermen in Bolton, white residents also sued him to attempt to stop him from taking his seat on the board. 

He’s still Bennie

When 74-year-old Thompson is not chairing the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Select Committee, he makes trips back to his hometown, where he is still called Bennie even though he is “Mr. Chairman” in Washington. The hunter and angler still lives in the same brick ranch house he used to live in and likes to travel around his district with his fishing pole and guns in the truck, he told CNN. His district includes much of the capital city Jackson and the rural Mississippi Delta and although he has been running his re-election campaign for the upcoming midterms, he is also focused on the historic hearings of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

At the end of the day, he wants to be able to say to the world that he, an African American, helped “stabilize our government when insurrectionists tried to take over.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 10, 2022


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