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.
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. 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, who worked closely with Medgar Evers. The afternoon began in the Sumner courthouse with a panel discussion on Emmett Till. 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. After a short break for dinner, the group returned to Po' Monkey's for an evening of music and dancing at Willie Seaberry's juke joint.
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, 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. 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 also 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.
The second day of the workshop centered around the immigrant stories woven throughout the Delta, as well as the religious and cultural roots of the blues and early rock music. Participants boarded the "traveling classroom" in the morning and travelled to Greenville, Mississippi, while learning about the Delta Jews. In Greenville, participants stopped at the Chinese cemetery and a Black cemetery to witness these communities’ histories within the town. 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, after which they 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 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 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 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, lead a discussion on the difficulties he faced fighting for his schools, as well as the challenges facing other districts in the region.
Participants were moved to feelings of shock and empathy while witnessing the hardships of both Lalee’s family, the community of Webb and the determination Superintendent Barns to make things better for all. These stories reminded the group of the importance of education in breaking the cycle of 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.
The Delta Center’s "Most Southern Place on Earth" workshop kicked off its seventh year with an opening reception at the Martin and Sue King Railroad Museum in downtown Cleveland on Sunday evening. The workshop is a week-long educational and cultural immersion experience for thirty-six participants from over twenty states. The workshop is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Joshuah Totten-Greenwood teaches high school history in New Hampshire. He was particularly drawn to the workshop because of the hands-on learning environment it provides.
"I like to learn by doing. I needed to see the actual places. Talk about them with the people that are from here," he said. "Otherwise forget it. It's just not the same learning from books as it is actually being there."
For the next five days participants will travel around the Delta interacting directly with historically and culturally significant people and places in the region.
"I've always loved jazz and the blues, I'm classically trained, but I've never really been in the South before. I've always just listened to the music," said Melody Nishinaga, a New York elementary school music teacher. "I'm really excited to be able to explore the history and the culture this week."
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.