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Through her nonprofit, NMHS Unlimited Film Productions, Dr. Wilma Clopton tells informative Black stories that focus on issues in Mississippiand beyond. Photo courtesy NMHS Unlimited Film Productions

From Plantations to Redlining: ‘Food Apartheid’ Film Reveals Systemic Causes of Food Insecurity

Sharon Davis joins Dr. Wilma Mosley Clopton at her north Jackson home in a theater-like viewing room. One wall is adorned with certificates and awards Dr. Clopton has earned that are as varied as her experience. The other wall features movie covers and advertisements for events for NMHS Unlimited, Clopton’s Mississippi-based film company.

“It is my first time seeing it,” Davis, Galloway United Methodist Chirch outreach ministries director who appears in Clopton’s film, “Food Apartheid,” says to me before it begins.

Galloway United Methodist Church Missions and Outreach Ministries Director Sharon Davis joins Dr. Clopton in her home for a film screening of “Food Apartheid.” Photo courtesy NMHS Unlimited Film Productions

The lights dim, and Clopton pushes a series of buttons on a remote bringing the documentary about food insecurity to life on the screen. Soon, viewers are riding down High Street with the filmmakers. We pass fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. As experts weigh in on the causes of food scarcity, the screen displays an image of empty grocery-store shelves.

When the documentary concludes, Davis sits back in her chair for a moment. “It was powerful to see that store and the camera going down the meat aisle, and the racks are just empty, and only every now and then do you see something,” she says. “I’m listening to them, but I actually see it.”

So does the viewer.

Hunger: A Deep Systemic Legacy

The documentary is about more than hunger. It is a look inside the systemic and historical issues that have created a lack of access to food in the metro area and around the state. Public officials weigh in on not only the myriad causes of food insecurity, such as the lack of sidewalks or transportation, but also how the absence of quality foods can be linked to the state’s high levels of obesity and negative health outcomes.

“In the film we talk about the difference between a food desert and food apartheid,” Clopton said. “A desert is something that God made. Food apartheid is manmade, and that’s what the film talks about. When you look at those areas, you are looking at intentional lack of access. There are no sidewalks generally or not sidewalks within walking distance (of a grocery store.)”

Davis was not aware of the depth to which food scarcity has plagued the state before viewing the documentary. “I knew about redlining from my classes. I understand the concept. I didn’t know that you could map what it looked like then and what it looks like today,” Davis said. “That’s remarkable.”

She is referring to a section of the film that overlays maps of Jackson-area plantations, areas of redlining and communities considered food deserts. The areas are nearly identical.

This map illustrates areas of the Jackson metro area that are affected by food insecurity. Areas progress from green to red, with red representing areas that most fit the definition of food desert. Map data source U.S. Census Bureau, USDA

“Every time I talk about food apartheid, people think I am talking about Africa, but I am talking about Mississippi and other parts of the country,” Clopton said. “I intentionally said food apartheid because of the research I found. The bottom line is that the same areas where there were plantations are the same areas where there was redlining. They are the same areas where you find lack of access to grocery stores, fresh fruits and vegetables, good meats or quality foods.”

That research convinced Clopton that the full story of food insecurity in Mississippi needed to be told. “When I saw that bottom layer of the plantation as the basis for all of this, I (knew) I had to do this film,” she said.

Dr. Adrian Dorsey-Kidd of the Department of Health and Human Services approached Clopton about the film idea. After three years of planning, filming and editing, she completed the documentary in late January. The final product is a collaboration between the Department of Health and Human Services, the City of Jackson and NMHS Unlimited.

The work is representative of NMHS Unlimited’s transition into projects that focus on social-justice issues in the state and beyond. “In ‘Food Apartheid’ we see that what is here as a microcosm can be seen happening in other places in the same shape or form,” Clopton says.

It is also an expansion of the legacy that her mother, Dr. Jesse Mosley, started.

‘The Time Is Now’

Jesse Mosley, a teacher and librarian, moved to the state with her husband, Charles, in the 1940s. She was shocked to find that her students in Jackson were largely unaware of their history. She was also stunned to find so little information available about the contributions of African Americans in Mississippi. She founded “The Negro in Missississippi Historical Society,” or NMHS.

Dr. Clopton’s mother, Dr. Jesse Mosley, founded “The Negro in Mississippi Historical Society” to help others learn of their local history. Dr. Clopton continues that mission through her films. Photo courtesy NMHS Unlimited Film Productions

“When she found out that there was this (area) where students had no idea of their history, who they were or what they were about, that was her first motivator,” Wilma Clopton said of her mother. “It really motivated her to start researching and finding things so that we would know that we were more than just cotton pickers. That we had people who came before us who had the strength and courage to do a lot more than that.”

In 2003 when her mother took ill, Clopton returned to her mother’s home to visit her. Her mother requested that she continue her work.

“She clasped my hands in hers and she whispered, ‘The time is now for our thoughts to happen in Mississippi,’” she said. “It was like being tasked to carry on her work.”

Clopton pondered the best way to honor her mother and decided to revive the organization in 2003, renaming it “The Negro in Missississippi Historical Society Unlimited” and expanding its focus to forgotten stories outside the state. The company seeks to bring to light the historically accurate stories of African Americans that have not been told.

“We did not change from the original mission, which is and was to chronicle the contributions of people of African descent to the state of Mississippi,” Clopton said. “The only thing we have added is ‘and beyond.’ The reason I say ‘and beyond’ is because now we look at Mississippi as a model for what is happening across the country.”

Race is inextricable from the CRA’s history, purpose, and the “ongoing systemic inequity in credit access for minority individuals and communities.” However, historically, the CRA has primarily used “low-income” as a proxy to identify communities and persons of color. Disparities in mortgage lending to people of color, as illustrated above, show the need for the CRA to include race in the metrics. Neither geography nor income are sufficient proxies for race, especially in places like the Deep South with a substantial portion of low-income areas.  

When Clopton revived the company, she encountered people who believed that she should change the name because of the negative connotation associated with the word “negro,” but she held to the organization’s original moniker.

“If you understand the history and the evolution of the terms that are used to describe people of African descent, the term negro defines the era on which we concentrate,” she said. “That would be anything prior to the Civil RIghts Movement. We do that because people try to insinuate that our history only starts with the Civil RIghts Movement or that our interest in our independence only started with the Civil Rights Movement. ”

The company has produced 20 films, including “Elport Chess and the Lanier High School Bus Boycott of 1947,” “In Spite of it All: The Ollye Brown Shirley Story” and “Through My Brother’s Eyes,” which tells the story of Medger Evers through the eyes of his brother Charles. Clopton has also published four books, a children’s coloring book and a play. She hosts a summer program for grades K-12 called Digital Magic, which introduces young people to filmmaking.

“People wanted to give a stereotypical view of Black Mississippians, and we are as diverse in our skin color as we are in our thought, input and presence as any other group of people,” she said. “Because we are so identifiable, people always wanted to pigeonhole us in terms of what they think about us here in Mississippi.

Sharon Davis appears in the “Food Apartheid” documentary, where the seriousness of the issue leads to an emotional moment. Photo courtesy NMHS Unlimited Film Productions

As the screening discussion comes to an end, the two women consider the potential long-reaching effects of this film. They wonder if it can spark the type of progression that Mosley believed the state could achieve.

“The first thing I want them to do is say, ‘I did not know that,’ because you cannot change that which you do not know,” Clopton said. “Once they know it, (they can) then do those actions within their scope that will cause change. It’s going to take all of us to bring change.”

Davis adds, “Whatever your gift is, you take your gift and put it into action.”

Clopton turns to Davis with a smile. “I think that’s a good way to summarize it. I want them to use their gift to make change,” she says.

“Food Apartheid” is scheduled for release in late February. Visit for more information on NMHS Unlimited.

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