It was my grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Huddleston, Sr. — the son of slaves — who inspired my determination to serve Mississippi.
In early 20th Century Mississippi, Huddleston organized the largest African American organization in the state, which helped slaves and their descendants improve their lives through education and self-reliance. He also started a newspaper, The Century Voice, which had a circulation over 100,000, and founded the first Mississippi hospital for African Americans.
I was born in Yazoo City, grew up there, then graduated from Howard University and Santa Clara Law School. I returned to practice law in the Mississippi Delta. I then became Assistant Secretary of State, where I helped reform Mississippi’s school funding law to increase revenue for rural public schools, and later Mississippi’s Assistant Attorney General where I was the Director of Consumer Protection.
Later, I was elected the first African American Congressman from Mississippi since the Reconstruction Era. We won by reaching across racial lines and campaigning on issues affecting all Mississippians, like helping family farmers stay afloat and keeping rural hospitals open. In Congress, I wrote an economic development bill benefitting rural Mississippi that was signed into law by President Reagan.
Six years later, President-elect Bill Clinton nominated me to be Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, the first Black person to hold that position, too. I personally negotiated foreign trade deals expanding markets for American farmers and I took on entrenched interests to adopt badly needed reforms in the food inspection system.
Then I came home to Mississippi, where I practice law and serve on the board of a non-profit organization dedicated to improving lives in the rural Mid-South. This incredible organization has provided loans to people who want to buy their first home or start a business. They also build hospitals in rural communities and open grocery stores in “food deserts.”
I ran for the United States Senate in the 2018 special election, and received almost 47 percent of the vote, the highest percentage for a Democrat in 30 years. I’m running again in 2020, because I believe in Mississippi and Cindy Hyde Smith is hurting our state. Cindy Hyde Smith promotes images that do not represent today’s Mississippi. She openly laughs about public hangings and makes statements supporting voter suppression. It’s hard to bring good jobs to Mississippi with a United States Senator acting like that.
My wife, Portia, and I are grateful to call Jackson, Mississippi home. I’m a proud grandfather, and father to Jamilla, Michael, and Ian.