Donna Ladd, a native Mississippian, founded the Mississippi Free Press three years ago to shine a bright light on the state’s politics, history, and culture. The MFP has grown into a journalistic force. I am excited to join its advisory board, because the force of sunlight can be so powerful. I want to share Donna Ladd’s last newsletter, introducing a new reporter—Torsheta Jackson—and describing some of their exciting plans for the future. This team wants to free Mississippi from the dead hand of the past. Read Donna’s letter and I think you will understand why I am so enthusiastic about the Mississippi Free Press.

Read our latest stories from And please support our work: Thank you! Meet Torsheta Jackson!

Donna writes:

One of my favorite reporting trips ever was touring around Noxubee County with then-freelance writer Torsheta Jackson in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because she grew up in the East Mississippi county, over on the Alabama border, Torsheta was the tour guide, driving us around in her big truck I had to lift myself into. First, she pointed out where she grew up in Shuqualak (locally pronounced “Sugar-lock”), the child of educators. Along the way, she pointed out slabs where industry, grocery stores and schools used to stand before her hometown became a shell of its former self over the decades after forced integration in 1970.

We walked around the ruins that now dominate the little downtown and talked about poverty, neglect, white-flight cycles and disinvestment in the county settled by rich white planters—including Mississippi State University founder Stephen D. Lee’s family—and built by enslaved people. The county has always been majority-Black, but usually under white control, from newspapers, to industry, to local education decisions and resources. It was also the site of vicious white terrorism to keep it that way.

Click now to support MFP’s Mapping Mississippi systemic-reporting strategy covering the 82 counties of Mississippi.

In the county seat of Macon, Torsheta showed me the county’s only remaining grocery store—white-owned and too expensive in a region where hunger is far too rampant, she said. She then took me to see the library, which still has its gallows, where they used to hang people in front of crowds on the front lawn, now marketed as a tourist attraction. We looked straight out the front window of the library at the tall Confederate statue standing in front of the courthouse across the street in a town that is 82% Black. The Board of Supervisors voted in July 2020 to remove it; last I checked, it was still there as post-George Floyd anti-racism enthusiasm wanes.

Torsheta showed me the abandoned Central Academy, which the superintendent of the county public schools helped open in the 1960s, supported by state vouchers, becoming the seg academy’s headmaster. She drove me to all the now-boarded-up, or disappeared or repurposed, public schools that used to be in Noxubee (locally pronounced “Nock-shu-bee”) County before most white families fled either to C.A. or to the local Mennonite school, which also opened in 1970.

Torsheta and I spent hours in the “new” Noxubee County public school just north of Macon, talking to the principal and the school psychologist—both women she knew growing up there. We learned about the perpetual state of crisis that faces the district and its one remaining public-school system covering the entire county; district leadership was changing again that day, in fact. And, of course, we learned about the systemic challenges that face Black women and their families, in particular, in Noxubee County, from no broadband, to hunger, to mental health and more. Their honesty with us informed Torsheta’s award-winning installment of our “(In)equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19” cause-solutions journalism project. It is now the prototype of our statewide county-level Mapping Mississippi systemic-reporting strategy that we’re amping up by summer with Torsheta’s help and inspiration.

Not to mention, a new area of research opened up for me when I heard the school psychologist’s story about a mob of local white men killing a Black woman school principal to stop the education and advancement of Black children: white terrorism specifically deployed to keep Black children uneducated and, thus, inequity and white control in place for generations to come. They said what they were doing for white-supremacy perpetuity right in the local newspaper. It wasn’t a secret. They bragged about ugly mob race violence by county leaders.Make a recurring donation now monthly, quarterly or annually to support the systemic journalism of Torsheta Jackson and our other reporters. Become an MFP VIP Club member.

It was an eye-opening and powerful journey for us both. Torsheta would later say on MFP Live that, before that reporting experience, she had not understood fully how intentional barriers and discrimination caused the decline of her home county over the decades. After this journey into the past, she did.

It was also on that tour of Noxubee County that I decided that I wanted Torsheta as a full-time reporter to take her systemic journalism across the state and help me build our Education Equity Solutions Lab. This is a very different kind of education reporting than the partisan griping about schools and funding that we usually see in Mississippi. For me, what I called Project Torsheta started on that trip. With her years of teaching experience (19 as of now), her brilliance, her curiosity, her wit and her stunning work ethic, I knew Torsheta was the kind of reporter Mississippi needs and deserves covering education. She can show us like no one else how education’s use as a political tool hurts families, children and whole communities.

Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s happening. Report for America announced Wednesday that it is supporting Torsheta as our lead education-equity reporter to do this work, paying a chunk of her salary for the next two to three years. After two years of working together to figure out timing and resources, Torsheta and I—and our whole team—are ecstatic that our vision is happening. I cannot wait to develop this work with Torsheta, and it doesn’t hurt that we recently hired fantastic Business Manager Jared Norton to free me up for more journalism. Torsheta and I (and others) will soon be traveling the state together again, doing the systemic journalism we know can help improve this state for all of our people.

I’ll talk more soon about our second new reporter we announced this week. Heather Harrison of Copiah County is the vivacious and dogged outgoing editor of The Reflector at Mississippi State. I knew in our first conversation (and then confirmed in a team solution circle) that she is bringing the energy, passion and curiosity that it takes to succeed and thrive at the Mississippi Free Press. She’ll be our first regional full-time bureau reporter, remaining in Starkville to largely cover that region of the state and help us collaborate with the Starkville Daily News.

Needless to say, you readers are making all of this growth happen. We started with $50,000 and one full-time reporter just three years ago. You have helped create 17 good-paying jobs and pay for myriad freelancers, contractors and interns—most of them brilliant and engaged Mississippi natives staying in their home state to do the work. Our resources are mostly from readers. You get it, and you are intentionally helping us grow our team and our reach to more counties.

Please help keep us growing by giving what you can now at Remember, your recurring donations are paying for at least one reporter already, so every amount matters.

Donna Ladd, Editor and CEO