FACES OF THE FLOODS: Anderson Jones Sr. holds onto the hope that is home

Published 4:00 am Saturday, September 24, 2022

Faces of the Floods is a series by The Vicksburg Post that tells the stories of people impacted by catastrophic floods in the Yazoo Backwater area.

They call him crazy, say he’s in denial or that his ambitions are a lost cause after so much destruction — but Fitler, Miss., native Anderson Jones Sr. clings tight to the promise that one day, he’ll come back home.

While the South Mississippi Delta is pockmarked with communities the layman might find difficult to pinpoint on a map, perhaps none is smaller than the hamlet of Fitler, located in the depths of Issaquena County. Nevertheless, Jones made the 28-mile trek to school in Rolling Fork each day, no matter the conditions.

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Jones, now in his 60s, recalls being a schoolboy during the 1973 Mississippi River Flood.

“No one knows exactly what I’ve been through. Children bullied me. They’d say, ‘Why you muddied up, walking around all wetted up?'” he said. “My sister, she had polio. But we never missed a day of school. My daddy would put us in that boat and we had to go a mile in the water to make it to the school bus.”

While at school, Jones said he found it difficult to concentrate on his studies for fear of what awaited when he came home. Being on the tail end of 10 siblings, if they came home before he did, there was no guarantee that the boat would be waiting for him to row back home.

Oftentimes, he had to wade through the muddy water, teeming with water moccasins and alligators. Oftentimes, it was dark by the time the school bus made it to the watery path to his house.

In 1973, the home Jones’s father built for $6,000 on 10 acres took on 4 feet of water.

But the water receded, and the family came home. Year after year they battled lesser floods, and Jones graduated from South Delta High School in 1979 with perfect attendance.

Jones began his testimonial with this story on Aug. 24 in the same auditorium where he and his two children graduated high school. He told his story to representatives from the Biden Administration who came on invitation from Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Bennie Thompson for a listening session about the devastating floods in the Yazoo Backwater area.

Jones, who in the early 1990s was left disabled when a drunk driver hit his truck and crushed his left leg during his work commute to Anderson-Tully, built his life in the house his father built. He and his wife, Felicia, raised their children, Anna and Anderson Jr., there.

They fled the 2011 flood, storing their possessions, but the water didn’t reach the house that time.

While Jones said he’s suffered from flood-induced nightmares all his life, nothing could have prepared him for the devastation of the 2019 Yazoo Backwater Flood.

“This time, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “When the water comes into your house and sits in there six or seven months, there ain’t no coming back.”

Although a prison work crew constructed a humble ring levee around his home, it wasn’t enough to keep the water — or the dangerous wildlife — out. Jones recalled sitting atop the sandbags with a shotgun, picking off water moccasins threatening his home.

Jones recalled two of many difficult decisions during the 2019 flood: sending his daughter to stay with his wife, who had evacuated already, and staying behind to defend his property while his son was away at Belhaven University in Jackson.

“I didn’t fail. I did my best. I didn’t let them get hurt and I sent them all away,” he said. “I couldn’t say, ‘You’re not going to college, son. You’ve got to stay here and help me pump the water.’ So daddy stayed behind. I did as much as I could do, but I was going to make sure my children had their education.”

Jones’s son and wife are now both graduates of Belhaven, and his daughter is a graduate of Hinds Community College.

While Jones did his best to defend their home on his own, Jones’s son was with him the night the water came for them. Already waking up at all hours of the night to bail water back over the ring levee, the pair had to escape.

“Once that water starts coming in, you can’t stop it,” he said. “I was fighting, trying to save our home. But the water was coming in our house, and we had to get out of there.”

They worked quickly, he said, because they feared being electrocuted when the water reached the electrical outlets.

When the water did recede, Jones said he had every intention to return home. However, a conversation with Issaquena County officials changed his mind.

“They had to really come and talk to me. They said, ‘Anderson, you just can’t go back in there and wash it up. The mildew has gone up the wall and you will have to tear it out.'” he said. “They told me, ‘You can’t stay in there, because it’ll kill you.’ I said to myself, I can’t kill my family through that. I couldn’t take that chance with my children, my wife.”

They stripped the house down to its studs. That was more than three years ago, and it’s still empty.

“I’ve had some people who said, ‘I wouldn’t go back,’ but they haven’t gone through this right here,” Jones said. “If what you had was all you had and that’s what you’re thanking God for, you wouldn’t say that.”

Jones and his family have lived for the last three years in an apartment in Vicksburg, anxiously awaiting the day when they can return home to Fitler.

He’s told his story to state and federal legislators, in a Mississippi Levee Board advertisement and even to current EPA Administrator Michael Regan. Nearly three-quarters of his life has been spent fighting the floodwaters and asking for relief.

“I’ve been going through this for 49 years, and we need some relief,” he said. “I don’t know why (the government) won’t try to see what we’re going through.”

Jones said he’s worn out two cars driving back and forth to check on his property. The one he’s driving now has racked up 458,000 miles, many from trips to the homeplace.

“But that’s my home,” he said on Aug. 24. “And I’ll be there until God calls me home.”

If you or someone you know is a South Delta resident impacted by the Yazoo Backwater Floods, email The Vicksburg Post’s Managing Editor at anna.guizerix@vicksburgpost.com to share your story.