National Endowment

The Delta Center’s NEH “Most Southern” workshop funded for eighth year

The Delta Center's "Most Southern" workshop participants at the Fannie Lou Hamer memorial garden in Ruleville. The workshop will be presented again in June and July 2017. through generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities."

The Delta Center's "Most Southern" workshop participants at the Fannie Lou Hamer memorial garden in Ruleville. The workshop will be presented again in June and July 2017. through generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities."

In its 50th anniversary year, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced $79 million in grants for 290 humanities projects and programs across the United States. The grants will be awarded in 14 humanities fields or areas, and also include $42.8 million in annual operating support for the national network of state and local humanities councils.

The grants will support a wide range of efforts in the humanities, with institutions, scholars and humanities organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories receiving NEH support. Complete state-by-state listings of grants are available through the NEH website.

“NEH grants help bring humanities experiences to Americans across the country,” said chairman William D. Adams. “Our funding supports museums, libraries and cultural institutions, and the local state councils that create and sustain humanities programs in their communities. Through films, original research and new intellectual insights, our grants strengthen the nation’s cultural fabric and identity.”

NEH workshop participants experiencing the Delta’s rich fertile soil.

NEH workshop participants experiencing the Delta’s rich fertile soil.

For the eighth year, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University has been awarded a NEH grant for “The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the Mississippi Delta” workshop. The workshop is one of several Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for School Teachers that NEH funds across the country. The purpose of this grant category is to support a series of one-week workshops for K-12 educators that address central themes and topics in American history, government, literature, art history and other humanities fields related to historic landmarks.

“We are pleased that the National Endowment for the Humanities once again is funding the ‘Most Southern Place on Earth’ workshops,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and co-director of the workshop. “This is one of the longest running NEH Landmarks workshops. We are excited to have the opportunity to offer it once again to K-12 educators who have a passion for learning and teaching about the rich culture and history of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, identified by the National Park Service as ‘the cradle of American culture.'”

Over the years, the NEH “Most Southern” workshops have built a dedicated network of over 500 alumni scholars who serve as educational and cultural ambassadors for the MDNHA and for Delta State University. The workshops use an experiential learning approach, engaging participants directly with historically and culturally significant people and places in the MDNHA.

Workshop participants take what they have learned back to their schools and communities, sharing stories and lessons from the MDNHA with students, colleagues, family and friends, nationally and globally. Many past participants have made return visits to the region, bringing students, colleagues, family and friends with them, which has broadened the “Most Southern” workshops’ educational and economic impact.

Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou greeting NEH workshop participants.

Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou greeting NEH workshop participants.

“Participants from as far away as Alaska, California and New Hampshire remain connected to The Delta Center, Delta State and the Delta region because of this workshop,” said Lee Alyward, program associate for education and community outreach at The Delta Center and workshop co-director. “In fact, several of them completed the International Blues Scholars Program this summer, our online Blues Studies certificate. We look forward to working with another group of educators in summer 2017 who are passionate about the Delta.”

The MDNHA is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at http://www.msdeltaheritage.com.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" Workshop June Session: Day 6

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.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" Workshop June Session: Day 5

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. 

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NEH "Most Southern Place" Workshop June Session: Day 4

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.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" Workshop June Session: Day 3

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.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" Workshop June Session: Day 2

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.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" Workshop June Session: Day 1

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.

 
 
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Delta Center donates bedding

Heather Miller (left) and Lee Aylward of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, visit Sister Donald Mary Lynch of St. Gabriel's Mercy Center in Mound Bayou with a donation of bedding.

Heather Miller (left) and Lee Aylward of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, visit Sister Donald Mary Lynch of St. Gabriel's Mercy Center in Mound Bayou with a donation of bedding.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning invites participants from its residential workshops to donate the bedding they used in dorm rooms to the St. Gabriel Mercy Center in Mound Bayou.

Over the years, participants in the National Endowment for the Humanities workshops have donated many sets of sheets, pillows and blankets. Another delivery to St. Gabriel’s was made following the end of the July workshop.

“When introducing the Delta to participants in our National Endowment for the Humanities workshops, we always introduce them to the unique history of Mound Bayou, and in so doing, to the Saint Gabriel Mercy Center,” said Alyward. “At the end of the workshop participants want to give back to the Delta, and this is a way for them to not only help others, but to leave a little of themselves here.”

The Delta Center, housed at Delta State, welcomed 40 K-12 teachers in July to its week-long workshop “The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History and Culture of the Mississippi Delta.”

The teachers came from 25 states and explored the blues, civil rights heritage, religious and culinary heritage, the flood of 1927 and the Great Migration. Participants made stops in Ruleville, Cleveland, Greenville, Clarksdale and Memphis — visiting museums, churches, historic sites, and listened to presentations.

Learn more about the Delta Center’s rich history at http://www.blueshighway.org. Visit http://www.neh.gov/ to read about the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Delta Center offers summer workshops for teachers in American History and culture

Dr. Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, with Dr. Julia Nguyen, a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington D.C. Nguyen is originally from Natchez.

Dr. Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, with Dr. Julia Nguyen, a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington D.C. Nguyen is originally from Natchez.

For the fifth year, Delta State University has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks in American History and Culture program. Funding will allow the Delta Center for Culture and Learning to offer two week-long workshops focusing on the Delta’s rich cultural heritage in June and July of 2014. Each workshop will serve 40 K-12 teachers who will come from Mississippi and all over the U.S.

Dr. Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning said, “The last time we did this we had over 400 applications, with participants coming from 47 states. This is a very exciting workshop and we hope to draw applicants from all of Mississippi and the rest of the country.”

Classroom teachers and librarians in public, private, parochial and charter schools, as well as home-schooling parents are eligible to participate. They will receive a stipend to assist with expenses and gather with leading humanities scholars and Delta State staff to develop powerful lesson plans relating to the Delta’s heritage and the heritage of their own home regions.

The workshops are titled “The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History and Culture in the Mississippi Delta.” Participants will travel throughout the Delta as they visit sites where significant events occurred. They will discuss and learn about issues involving civil rights and political leadership, immigrants’ experiences in the Delta, the Blues, the great migration, agriculture, and the Mississippi River, among other things. They will sample Delta foods, visit local museums and listen to the Blues. Field trips will roam as far as Greenville, Greenwood, Clarksdale and Memphis, with stops in between.

Participants can earn five graduate semester hours upon completion of the workshop.

Workshops will be held the week of June 22 and the week of July 13. Each begins on Sunday evening and runs through the following Saturday afternoon.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning promotes the understanding of the heritage of the Mississippi Delta. It is the manager of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, a partnership between the people of the Delta and the National Park Service. The Center will be assisted during the workshops by faculty from the University of Mississippi, Sam Houston State University, the University of Memphis and other institutions of higher learning. Local Delta citizens will also tell their own stories and experiences.

There are only 17 Landmarks in American History and Culture topics offered during 2014. Their topics range from The American Skyscraper, to The Cold War Home Front in Southern California, to Crossroads of Conflict: Contested Visions of Freedom and the Missouri-Kansas Border Wars, with several workshops focusing on the Civil Rights Movement. A complete list can be found at http://www.neh.gov/projects/landmarks-school.html.

For more information about the Landmarks in American History and Culture workshops, visit the center’s website at http://deltacenterforcultureandlearning.com/neh-workshop/ or contact the DSU Delta Center for Culture and Learning at 662-846-4311.

Caption:  Dr. Luther Brown, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, with Dr. Julia Nguyen, a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington D.C. Nguyen is originally from Natchez.

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Delta Center for Culture and Learning Participates in NEH Workshop

   Photo: Bill Abel

 

Photo: Bill Abel

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State recently hosted a workshop called “The Most Southern Place on Earth:  Music, History and Culture of the Mississippi Delta” workshop.  The workshop is held twice a year by the Center, with major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) program known as Landmarks in American History and Culture.  Each workshop admits forty teachers from anywhere in the U.S.  The session lasts for six days, and examines the Delta’s heritage in the Blues, religion, Civil Rights, foodways, and other important manners.  

Tim Shaw, a top-notch instrument maker and elementary art teacher, was able to reunite with bluesman Bill Abel while attending.

Shaw first met Abel when they did a workshop together last summer. Shaw had been making cigar box guitars for a year when he learned of Abel’s cigar box show at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs. Shaw’s wife got her husband and his friends permission to be in Abel’s show through the cultural center.

“I spent two days with him down there at the cultural center. We immediately hit it off,” Shaw said. “I called my wife after the first day and I said, ‘I have met my Jesus.’”

The two have been in touch since, but Shaw’s being at Abel’s performance during the NEH workshop was a complete surprise.

“I didn’t tell him I was coming,” Shaw said. “Yesterday when he was unloading his stuff I came here early to help, and I said, ‘Remember me?’ And he just couldn’t believe I was here.”

   Photo: Tim Shaw

 

Photo: Tim Shaw

After Abel’s show on Wednesday night, Shaw demonstrated his skills on Abel’s cigar box guitar. Shaw said that while he has always been interested in music, he only became a musician in his early 30’s.

“I worked with two guys who were surprised that I didn’t play anything because I knew so much about music,” Shaw said. “They set out on a mission to teach me to play. One of them played the drums, the other one played guitar. They decided they were going to teach me the bass so we could have a band.”

From playing instruments, Shaw became interested in making them. During his quest to make a solid-body electric guitar, he encountered a news clip about a man who made cigar box guitars on the coast. Shaw visited the artist’s gallery in Bay St. Louis with some friends the following Sunday and ended up buying one of the artist’s cigar box guitars.

“I took it home and took it apart and looked at it and thought, ‘Huh, this is interesting. I think I can do this,’” Shaw said. “And so my endeavor to make solid body electric guitars took a left turn to cigar box guitars.”

Shaw, whose projects are usually commissioned, says that the six-day workshop has left him inspired.

“I’m really excited about this workshop. I’ve already designed three new guitars,” Shaw said. “I can’t wait to go home and make them. They’re going to be blues themed.”

For more information, contact the Delta Center at 662-846-4311 or Luther Brown at lbrown@deltastate.edu

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