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Back To Mississippi

Wellstone's tour of poverty-stricken Tunica County mirrors RFK's 1967 trip


TUNICA, Miss. (AllPolitics, May 29) -- When Robert Kennedy toured northwestern Mississippi in 1967, he found widespread poverty and hunger. His visit provoked an outpouring of support for the area, one of the nation's poorest.

Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) returns to the area 30 years later, accompanied by the area's Democratic congressman, Bennie Thompson, to find some things changed.

Casinos dot the riverfront, catfish farms are thriving and outright hunger has been largely eliminated.

But more remains the same: Tunica is still dirt poor. The county's unemployment and infant mortality rates still far outstrip Mississippi's already high state averages, and its per capita income is still far lower.

Wellstone, who is touring the area today, wants his trip to spark another outpouring of discussion on "poverty and near-poverty." "I believe in the nation's capital we've turned our gaze away from it," Wellstone told reporters.

"If I can help put these issues on the agenda, just the agenda, I will consider this a unique accomplishment," he said.

It's unclear how much impact Wellstone's visit will have. He does not have Kennedy's national profile, and the national mood toward the poor has shifted dramatically since that time.

And things are "1,000 percent" better in Tunica, black GOP leader Charles Evers told The Associated Press. Evers has been highly critical of Wellstone's trip, saying Wellstone could just as easily find poor people in his home state.

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