And typical of Black communities across the country, Helena-West Helena has its share of problems that arise from discrimination.

By Stacy M. Brown
Originally appeared in NNPA

During the Civil War in 1863, Helena, Arkansas, located in the South and under Union occupation, provided refuge to runaway slaves, becoming a safe haven for them.
The city also served as a training ground for various regiments comprised of colored soldiers.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Helena transformed into a thriving blues community, flourishing as a bustling port town along the Mississippi River.
According to the city’s official website, musicians from all corners of the South would make a stop in Helena, contributing to its vibrant music scene.
To this day, Helena remains the proud host of the nation’s longest-running blues radio show, King Biscuit Time.
The show played a crucial role in launching the careers of numerous renowned musicians.
Presently known as Helena-West-Helena, the city serves as the county seat for Phillips County and is home to a population of slightly over 9,000 people, predominantly African Americans.
And typical of Black communities across the country, Helena-West Helena has its share of problems that arise from discrimination.
Today, as blistering heat beats down on Helena, the city faces a water crisis and meaningful state, and federal aid has remained elusive.
As the city braces for more scorching temperatures, the mercury expected to reach a sweltering 98 degrees next week, it has grappled with a dire water shortage for the past three weeks.
Aid has been slow to arrive, leaving the community to rely on bottled water for their daily needs.
The root cause of Helena-West Helena’s water woes lies in its aging infrastructure, with pipes dating back at least 60 years, which have been bursting throughout the city.
Mayor Christopher Franklin expressed his concerns in an NBC News interview.
“Some of the problems are about infrastructure being neglected over the years. It’s just been a systemic failure,” Franklin said.
The crisis reached its tipping point on June 25 when a major water line broke, causing the city’s computer operating system that runs the water plant to fail automatically.
As a result, the predominantly Black community endured a grueling 20-hour period without water in scorching temperatures of up to 97 degrees.
Since then, the city has been under a boil water alert, which remains in effect due to leaks sprouting from various compromised parts of the infrastructure.
According to NBC News, city officials estimate that the cost of repairing the antiquated piping system ranges from $1 million to $10 million.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a $100,000 loan to help address the leaks in the primary water system, but Franklin and his chief of staff, James Valley, deemed it insufficient to resolve the issue.
Although water service had been partially restored, low pressure and new leaks persist.
Franklin has tirelessly sought aid from state and federal authorities but claims that his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Speaking truth to power, Franklin also wasn’t afraid to express his frustration.
“In America, where people have the right to good, quality drinking water, the federal government should be running aid to provide that,” he told NBC.
“Instead, there’s no sense of urgency for us. I mean, why would it be? We’re Black. There’s no urgency until they want our vote. And that’s what’s happening here. What else are we left to think?”
The mayor called upon Arkansas’ two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman, both of whom failed to provide a satisfactory response to the crisis.
While Cotton sent an aide to assess the situation, Boozman is scheduled to send one soon.
However, Franklin stressed that what his city truly needs is immediate access to resources and a comprehensive solution, not just visits from representatives.
Acknowledging the assistance provided by entities such as the Arkansas National Guard, the Red Cross, Walmart, and Dollar General in offering support and bottled water, Franklin said he worried that if those organizations are the sole sources of help, the city will face a long, scorching summer.
He others have questioned why substantive and timely aid has been slow to materialize, citing similar delays experienced in other predominate African American communities like Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi.
In his seven months as mayor, Franklin said he has focused on revitalizing the city by demolishing 90 abandoned homes to eliminate blight and attract residents back to the area.
He said he sees this as an opportunity to replace the aging water lines that lie beneath those houses.
However, the water crisis has not been the only challenge for Franklin.
Since defeating a white incumbent in the mayoral race, Franklin said he’s encountered racism, including death threats, property intrusions, and social media attacks.
“I’m not arguing about a football game. I’m arguing about the quality of life for Black people and all the people in this inner city,” Franklin stated.