I was raised in a small southern town you’ve probably never heard of called Gray Court, South Carolina. Because of this, I expected that I would be familiar with Cleveland, another small southern town about 600 miles away. Since arriving two weeks ago, some of my expectations have been confirmed while others have been shattered.
On the drive down Highway 82, I was startled when the landscape began to flatten and the horizon stretched further into the distance. We had finally made it to the open and flat terrain of the Mississippi Delta. The farmland on either side of the road was as vast as any ocean. Although the landscape was foreign, the beauty of rural life felt familiar. I did not know it at the time, but the geography of the region would not be the last thing in the Delta to impress me.
There is a spirit of community here that is remarkable. My classmates and I have only been here for two weeks and Cleveland has shown us a hospitality that is unlike any I’ve ever experienced. That is not to say we have not received our fair share of suspicion since arriving, but it is to note that after being asked, “What brings you to Cleveland?”, locals always follow up by welcoming us to town, asking us how our stay has been so far, and making a point to engage with us. Southern hospitality is beautiful because at its core, it is a display of one human engaging with another human in a dignifying way- regardless of how well the people know one another. The Mississippi Delta has this spirit of hospitality in spades.
As the summer goes on, I will keep looking for moments that surprise and educate me because I believe there there is a lot be learned here. Y’all have something special here in the Delta and I’m honored that I get to experience it.
Greenville, South Carolina
Duke University Class of 2019