Today was a great closing to a formative and inspiring week! The participants began the morning with a lecture by Dr. John Strait. He discussed some of the major themes of the week- blues, culture, and religion- and how these aspects of the Delta spread throughout America. After a break from lunch, participants returned to make their “Mojos”. This activity involved “tying-up” everything inside a bag of mojo. The mojo bag includes items such as flowers from the Chinese cemetery, red brick from Dockery plantation, and pieces of Fannie Lou Hamer’s voter registration form, and it is a tool that will help the teachers remember all that they learned here in the Delta. Finally, participants completed evaluations and prepared to say goodbye to the Mississippi Delta- the Most Southern Place on Earth.
The fifth day of the workshop spanned from struggle to celebration as the teachers explored the place where cotton was king and where the fight for civil rights met the cultural revolution of soul music -- Memphis, Tennessee. We left first thing in the morning, and on the way to Memphis we stopped in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the town’s historic Greyhound station-turned-monument. Complete with the old ‘white’ and ‘colored’ waiting rooms, it was not unlike those utilized by the Freedom Riders. There, we were welcomed by Mayor Bill Luckett, who told about how people from all over the world frequent Clarksdale for its historic significance and vast contributions to blues music.
This day was dedicated in memory of Mr. Willie Seaberry- the Cottom Museum to honor his life as a farmer, the Stax Museum to learn about the music he loved, and the Civil Rights museum to learn about his heritage. We drove the rest of the way to Memphis, where we toured the Memphis Cotton Exchange Museum and learned just how important cotton was to the South, both economically and societally. After leaving the museum, we drove over to Soulsville, USA to the Stax Museum, witnessing the breadth of the Stax legacy’s impact on soul music even today. After Stax, the group stopped for lunch at Central BBQ, a local joint where the participants enjoyed a BBQ buffet. The majority of the afternoon was spent in the National Civil Rights Museum, which taught everything from the experiences of the first slaves to reconstruction to the Black Power movement. The day pivoted once again as we finished our time in Memphis in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel to watch the famous marching of the ducks before heading back to Cleveland.
Today was a powerful day. The morning began with a trip to Mound Bayou, the Mississippi's first all black town, and a key community during the Civil Rights era. On the way back to Cleveland, the group stopped by Po' Monkey's Lounge and upon returning to campus engaged in lecture by Charles McLaurin, a SNCC organizer who worked closely with Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer. The afternoon began in the Sumner courthouse with a panel discussion on Emmett Till featuring Till's cousins Simeon Wright and Wheeler Parker. The afternoon wrapped up with a trip to Bryant's Grocery in Money, and Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church outside Greenwood, one of the three grave sites for legendary bluesman Robert Johnson.
The Delta Center received devastating news that Mr. Willie Seaberry, "Po Monkey", passed away and will be dedicating a later post in Mr. Seaberry's honor.
Today was all about the Blues- the music itself and the culture and people that produced it. The day kicked off with a trip to Dockery Farms, deemed by BB King the “Birthplace of the Blues”. Next, the traveling classroom made its way to Ruleville, Mississippi, home of civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer. On the way to visit Hamer’s memorial, participants listened to a lecture on education and civil rights by Dr. Edgar Smith, a friend of Hamer's. The next stop was the B.B. King museum where participants learned about King’s legacy and the role he played in popularizing the blues. The final event of the day was lecture on the history of blues music by Dr. David Evans. Dr. Evans gave a live performance of Delta blues for the teachers, and during a break in his lecture, a sampling of Delta hot tamales was served to the group.
During the second day of the workshop, participants gained a deeper understanding of the lesser known immigrant stories found in the Delta, as well as the religious and cultural roots of the blues and early rock music.
The day began by first traveling to to Greenville, Mississippi, which was once a major commercial and cultural hub. In addition to being the first Delta town to be hit by the flood of 1927, Greenville carved its place in history as a place rich with diverse peoples. On the way to this historic city, participants learned the history of the Delta Jews, and how their Jewish and southern identities intersect. Once participants arrived, they stopped at the adjacent Chinese and Black cemeteries. Here, they met one of the last Chinese American citizens in the Delta, who discussed how she grew up living behind her family's grocery store, which was located in a predominantly black neighborhood. As her grandfather came to the United States in the 1800s, her story illustrated that of the average Chinese American growing up in the Delta. Within the black cemetery participants were able to view Holt Collier's gravestone and learn how he led a life of big game hunting and solidarity to to the confederacy. They then went to the historic Hebrew Union Temple to hear even more about the history of Jews in the region and their relationship with southern society as well as with the northern Jews who came through the Delta as Freedom Riders. Adjacent to the temple, participants meandered through a museum of the 1927 flood. Here, they were able to read original newspaper clippings reporting the flood, to see real artifacts leftover, and to ask questions about the actual physics involved with the levee. Two local newspapers interviewed some participants in the museum after hearing that the NEH workshop was in town -- a sign of how prevalent cultural tourism is becoming in the Delta. After leaving the museum, participants returned to Cleveland for lunch.
Guest scholar Charles Reagan Wilson spoke to the workshop after lunch, teaching about the historically diverse religious factions found within the Delta. He also discussed how the strong tradition of oral expression found in the South influenced the church, musicians, and even southern politicians. The lecture shed light on everything from church fans as a form of advertising to modern day politics and the relationship between religion and different political agendas. The day finished with country blues musician Bill Abel, who discussed the history of blues music and performed in a variety of styles, playing a variety songs, including selections by Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, for the crowd.
Today was the beginning of the second session of the NEH "Most Southern Place on Earth" workshop. In the opening session, workshop directors Lee Aylward and Dr. Rolando Herts of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning provided an overview of the Delta and challenged participants to enter the week with open minds and curious hearts – offering an intersectional lens to view identity, culture, and history. During an icebreaker activity, participants met one another and introduced themselves, sharing interesting facts about one another they will be quizzed on throughout the week.
After lunch at a local soul food joint- the Senator's Place, the group engaged in discussions on race, culture, education, and poverty in the Delta through the Oscar-nominated documentary, LaLee’s Kin. Reggie Barns, superintendent of the West Tallahatchie School District featured in the film, led a discussion on the difficulties he faced fighting for his schools, as well as the challenges facing other districts in the region. He also encouraged the teachers to be strong in the work that they do because education is one of the most powerful tools to overcome cyclical poverty.
After the discussion, everyone boarded the "traveling classroom" and learned about the Great Flood of 1927 while driving to the Mississippi River for a visit to the location of the levee breach from that disaster.
The evening concluded with a catfish dinner at Airport Grocery where Terry "Harmonica" Bean played the Delta Blues for the participants.
The Delta Center’s "Most Southern Place on Earth" workshop began the second session of 2016 with an opening reception at the Martin and Sue King Railroad Museum in downtown Cleveland on Sunday evening. Nearly 400 applications were received for 72 slots. The workshop is a week-long educational and cultural immersion experience for thirty-six participants from twenty states. The workshop is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For the next five days participants will travel around the Delta interacting directly with historically and culturally significant people and places in the region.
The NEH workshop has created a national network of over 500 educational and cultural ambassadors for the MDNHA. Participants take what they have learned from the workshop back to their schools and communities, sharing stories and lessons from the Delta with students, colleagues, family, and friends nationally and globally.