Mississippi capital’s Black business owners decry water woes

Sep 3, 2022, 6:08 PM | Updated: Sep 4, 2022, 10:42 am
John Tierre, owner of Johnny T's Bistro and Blues, a midtown Jackson, Miss., restaurant and nightcl...

John Tierre, owner of Johnny T's Bistro and Blues, a midtown Jackson, Miss., restaurant and nightclub, speaks about his concerns over the city's longstanding water problems, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — When John Tierre launched his restaurant in Jackson’s neglected Farish Street Historic District, he was drawn by the neighborhood’s past as an economically independent cultural hub for Black Mississippians, and the prospect of helping usher in an era of renewed prosperity.

This week he sat on the empty, sun-drenched patio of Johnny T’s Bistro and Blues and lamented all the business he has lost as tainted water flows through his pipes — just like other users in the majority Black city of 150,000, if they were lucky enough to have any pressure at all. The revival he and others envisioned seems very much in doubt.

“The numbers are very low for lunch,” Tierre told The Associated Press. “They’re probably taking their business to the outskirts where they don’t have water woes.”

Torrential rains and flooding of the Pearl River in late August exacerbated problems at one of Jackson’s two treatment plants, leading to a drop in pressure throughout the city, where residents were already under a boil-water order due to poor quality.

Officials said Sunday that most of Jackson should have running water, though residents are still advised not to drink straight from the tap. The city remains under a boil water notice. Officials also said future repairs leave potential for fluctuations in water pressure.

The water crisis has compounded the financial strain caused by an ongoing labor shortage and high inflation. And the flow of consumer dollars from Jackson and its crumbling infrastructure to the city’s outskirts hits Black-owned businesses hardest, the owners say.

Another Black entrepreneur who has taken a hit is Bobbie Fairley, 59, who has lived in Jackson her entire life and owns Magic Hands Hair Design on the city’s south side.

She canceled five appointments Wednesday because she needs high water pressure to rinse her clients’ hair of treatment chemicals. She also has had to purchase water to shampoo hair to try fit and in whatever appointments she can. When customers aren’t coming in, she’s losing money.

“That’s a big burden,” she said. “I can’t afford that. I can’t afford that at all.”

Jackson can’t afford to fix its water problems. The tax base has eroded over the past few decades as the population decreased, the result of primarily white flight to suburbs that began about a decade after public schools integrated in 1970. Today the city is more than 80% black, and 25% of its residents live in poverty.

Some say the uncertainty facing Black businesses fits into a pattern of adversity stemming from both natural disasters and policy decisions.

“It’s punishment for Jackson because it was open to the idea that people should be able to attend public schools and that people should have access to public areas without abuse,” said Maati Jone Primm, who owns Marshall’s Music and Bookstore up the block from Johnny T’s. “As a result of that, we have people who ran away to the suburbs.”

Primm thinks Jackson’s longstanding water woes — which some trace to the 1970s when federal spending on water utilities peaked, according to a 2018 Congressional Budget Office report — have been made worse by inaction from Mississippi’s mostly white, conservative-dominated Legislature.

“For decades this has been a malignant attack, not benign. And it’s been purposeful,” Primm said.

Political leaders have not always been on the same page. Jackson’s Democratic mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, has blamed the water problems on decades of deferred maintenance, while Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said they stem from mismanagement at the city level.

Last Monday the governor held a news conference about the crisis, and the mayor was not invited. Another was held later in the week where they both appeared, but Primm said it’s clear that the two are not in concert.

“The lack of cooperation speaks to the continued punishment that Jackson must endure,” she said.

Under normal circumstances, Labor Day weekend is a bustling time at Johnny T’s. The college football season brings out devoted Jackson State fans who watch away games on the bistro’s TVs or mosey over from the stadium after home games. But this weekend many regulars were busy stocking up on bottled water to drink or boiling tap water to cook.

Even as revenue plummeted, Tierre’s expenses increased. He has been spending $300 to $500 per day on ice and bottled water, not to mention canned soft drinks, tonic water and everything else that would typically be served out of a soda gun. He brings staff in a few hours earlier than usual so they can get a head start on boiling water to wash dishes and stacking the extra soda cans.

In total, Tierre estimated, he’s forking over an added $3,500 per week. Customers pay the price.

“You have to pass some of this off to the consumer,” Tierre said. “Now your Coke is $3, and there are no refills.”

At a water distribution site in south Jackson this week, area resident Lisa Jones brought empty paint buckets to fill up so her family could bathe. In a city with crumbling infrastructure, Jones said she felt trapped.

“Everybody can’t move right now. Everyone can’t go to Madison, Flowood, Canton and all these other places,” she said, naming three more affluent suburbs. “If we could, trust me, it would be a dark sight: Houses would be boarded up street by street, neighborhood by neighborhood.”


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


This image released by Fork Films shows a scene from the documentary "The American Dream and Other ...
Associated Press

A doc from the Disney family takes aim at the Mouse House

NEW YORK (AP) — Abigail E. Disney has been critical of the company that bears her name before. But for the first time, Disney, the granddaughter of co-founder Roy O. Disney, has put her views into the medium the Mouse House was built on: a movie. In the new documentary “The American Dream and Other […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Helicopter crashes in Arizona desert; no word on 2 aboard

MESA, Ariz. (AP) — A helicopter crashed Monday morning in a desert area near Phoenix but authorities said there was no immediate word on the condition of the two people aboard. Federal Aviation Administration officials said the Robinson R22 helicopter went down around 9:15 a.m. some 4 ½ miles (7.2 kilometers) north of the Falcon […]
1 day ago
This undated image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration shows the FDA's Center for Toba...
Associated Press

Insider Q&A: FDA official on vaping’s “promise or peril”

WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s been no honeymoon period for the Food and Drug Administration’s new tobacco chief, Brian King, the public health scientist now responsible for regulating the nation’s multibillion-dollar cigarette and vaping industry. The problems facing FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products have only multiplied since King’s arrival in July from the Centers for Disease […]
1 day ago
Chicago police respond to a shooting near the CPD Homan Square facility Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.  On...
Associated Press

1 shot, officer injured in Chicago police facility incident

CHICAGO (AP) — One person was shot and a Chicago police officer was wounded Monday during an incident inside a police facility on the city’s West Side, officials said. Shots were fired shortly before noon at the building in Homan Square, police spokesman Tom Ahern told WGN-TV. The officer was taken to Sinai Hospital in […]
1 day ago
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi speaks to reporters during a news conference in Athens on ...
Associated Press

Greece: EU using Med countries like a refugee ‘parking lot’

ATHENS (AP) — Greece on Monday urged the European Union to lift movement restrictions for refugees recognized by individual nations, accusing the bloc of applying a double standard when dealing with Ukrainians fleeing the war compared with the victims of other conflicts. Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s migration affairs minister, said a “lack of solidarity” was holding […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

White House announces Dec. 1 state visit for France’s Macron

WASHINGTON (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Washington in early December for the first state visit of President Joe Biden’s tenure, an occasion marked by pomp and pageantry that is designed to celebrate relations between the United States and its closest allies. The Dec. 1 visit will be the second U.S. state […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Mississippi capital’s Black business owners decry water woes