Washington

A SPECIAL VISIT TO THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE “AND, I CRIED . . .”

Dr. Emily Moore stands in awe of the Smithsonian NMAAHC’s South Carolina Rice Fields exhibit with her husband, Dr. Herman Blake, before visiting the Emmett Till Memorial exhibit. The two are framed by two iconic South Carolina Lowcountry landmarks: historic Angel Oak on John’s Island and a salt marsh at Mosquito Beach, a popular social destination for African Americans during the Jim Crow Era. Photo credit: Dr. Rolando Herts, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

Dr. Emily Moore stands in awe of the Smithsonian NMAAHC’s South Carolina Rice Fields exhibit with her husband, Dr. Herman Blake, before visiting the Emmett Till Memorial exhibit. The two are framed by two iconic South Carolina Lowcountry landmarks: historic Angel Oak on John’s Island and a salt marsh at Mosquito Beach, a popular social destination for African Americans during the Jim Crow Era. Photo credit: Dr. Rolando Herts, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

Editor’s Note: How the Smithsonian, National Park Service, and National Heritage Areas tell stories together

During the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA) Annual Meeting in February 2017, I had the honor of working with Brandi Roberts, Executive Director of Great Basin National Heritage Area (Nevada) Sara Capen, Executive Director of Niagara Falls National Heritage Area (New York) to organize a special ANHA tour of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. The tour was arranged in collaboration with Smithsonian Ambassador Mossi Tull and the museum's education division. 

National Heritage Areas are cultural heritage partnerships with the National Park Service. The Smithsonian NMAAHC features exhibits that relate to many National Heritage Area stories, including the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which spans Lowcountry coastal communities shared by four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

The following is a powerful reflective essay written by Dr. Emily Moore who experienced the tour with her husband, Dr. Herman Blake, Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Dr. Moore’s personal account poignantly illustrates the enduring historical and cultural significance of a 1955 Mississippi Delta story that still resonates with 21st century America: the lynching of African American teenager Emmett Till, an international tragedy widely cited as the “spark that lit the fuse” of the modern Civil Rights Movement.  

- Rolando Herts, Ph.D., The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area

To read the full article and see more photos, please visit the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area blog.

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DRA brings Mississippi community leaders to D.C.

Congressman Bennie Thompson poses with members of the DLI's Executive Academy

Participants pose with Senator Thad Cochran

Congressman Gregg Harper meets with participants.

WASHINGTON -- Members of the Delta Leadership Institute’s Executive Academy, selected by Governor Bryant and Delta Regional Authority federal co-chairman Chris Masingill, met recently with their congressional delegation and federal officials in Washington, DC, to talk about issues affecting the Mississippi River Delta region, including creating good-paying jobs, growing small businesses and entrepreneurs, and training a skilled workforce.

“Our cities and towns are important laboratories for policy development and economic growth in our region. To support smart, effective decision-making in our local communities, the Delta Leadership Institute is training and connecting our region’s leaders with the tools, network, and skills to improve the economic realities of their communities,” Chairman Masingill said. “This session in Washington, DC, provides them access to each of these and empower them to share their experiences back home and throughout the region.”

Executive Academy fellows were in Washington for the fifth session of the DLI Executive Academy, a year-long program for community leaders across the Delta that teaches leadership skills and prepares fellows to collaborate across state and local borders to address the most-pressing challenges of the region. This is the eleventh class of the DLI Executive Academy.

Those attending were:

Amanda Allen | Clarksdale, MS

Tracy Ausberry | Clarksdale, MS

Joshua Bower | Jackson, MS

Dr. Rolando Herts | Cleveland, MS

Shellie Michael | Jackson, MS

Lane Riley | Shaw, MS

Jessie Whitley | Greenville, MS

The meetings also allow these Delta leaders to interact directly with their congressional representation and discuss the policies and resources that they see as being most important to the region’s economic success, such as workforce development, access to healthcare, entrepreneurship, disaster recovery and resilience, and geotourism.

“I commend the Delta Regional Authority for fostering new leadership to promote economic growth and health care improvement throughout the Delta.  It was a pleasure to meet the members of the Delta Leadership Institute, who will use the leadership skills they’re learning to aid their communities,” U.S. Senator Thad Cochran said.

“I enjoyed my conversation with this group of new leaders. This and other leadership programs are vital to the future success of our state,” U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson (MS-2) said. “I tried to stress the importance of strong, competent individuals taking up the mantle of leadership in the Mississippi Delta to continue getting things done for the people they serve.”

“The DLI experience has been so educational for class members throughout Mississippi and the seven other DRA states. Participating in these DRA Hill visits is a highlight of my career and professional development," stated Jessie Whitley. "It was an honor to meet Senator Cochran, Congressman Thompson, and Congressman Harper and share with them the great work that DRA is doing in Delta communities. We also gained insights from them about how we can use leadership skills and connections developed through this program to better our communities. It was a win-win.”

"At the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, we're involved in lots of projects related to culture, heritage, and tourism," said Dr. Herts, Director of the Center. "I really appreciate the DLI Executive Academy for providing this opportunity to meet with our representatives in Washington to discuss ways that we can all help the region together. Without the Delta Regional Authority, which helps to empower so many here in the Delta, this would not have happened."

Lane Riley is the Program Director for Delta Hands for Hope in Shaw. Her organization provides after-school educational opportunities for school-age children in the town. "The DLI Executive Academy connects many Delta leaders and experts to address many of the issues and challenges effecting our region.  I will be able to use this experience to bring new ideas and information back to my community, and work with other leaders in the Delta to have a greater collective impact," she said. "Through this trip to Washington, DC, we were able to advocate for continued support of programs and policies that will have a positive impact in the Mississippi Delta. Participating in the DLI is beneficial for me, my organization, and my community, and I am so honored to be apart of this amazing program."


About the Delta Regional Authority

The Delta Regional Authority is a federal-state partnership that is congressionally mandated to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives in 252 counties and parishes in the eight states of the Delta region. Through the Rural Communities Advancement Program, the DRA has provided leadership development to more than 400 community leaders over ten years and strengthened regional collaboration with its Delta Leadership Institute.

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MDNHA, Delta Center partner with Delta Jewels author for Smithsonian presentation

Annyce Campbell has lived in the same house in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, for over two-thirds of her life. She raised 12 children in the home, teaching them to respect themselves and to respect their community. She raised them quietly and diligently, wanting them to have more opportunities in their lives than she had in hers.

On March 13, Campbell was recognized for her strength and commitment at a Women’s History Month and National Park Service Centennial presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. The event was a Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership program organized by the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, and University of Mississippi journalism professor Alysia Burton Steele, author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” The book is a collection of oral histories and portraits featuring 54 African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta. Campbell’s portrait is featured on the book’s cover.

“My grandmother used to tell me that you learn something new everyday,” said Campbell. “I passed that on to my own children. You have to learn to love life, to love living, and to be appreciative of every moment we’re given.”

For Steele, the presentation served as a reinforcement for the importance of gathering oral histories. Her family sat in the audience to hear her speak for the first time, finally under-standing what she strives to do as a journalist. Seeing the way the audience embraced Campbell was also a poignant moment.

“Mrs. Campbell was glowing all weekend,” Steele said. “I was so happy to have helped make this trip happen for her.”

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning serves as the managing entity for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The MDNHA creates partnerships that promote and empower the Mississippi Delta’s people and communities to tell their stories and to celebrate their pride in the region’s unique and diverse cultural heritage.

“After a year of planning, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is excited to see that this collaborative effort was a success,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center and MDNHA. “This would not have been possible without a team of strategic partners. Mossi Tull, a member of the Smithsonian Anacostia board, sponsored travel for Mrs. Campbell and her family. Maggie Tyler with the National Heritage Areas program made important connections with the National Park Service. And, of course, Alysia Burton Steele’s oral histories and photography provided critical subject matter for educating audience members about the Mississippi Delta’s cultural significance. Everyone brought something to the table.”

The MDNHA is one of 49 National Heritage Areas, which are cultural heritage partnerships with the National Park Service. All areas are being encouraged to commemorate the National Park Service Centennial.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area's Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership Program at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum featured in the Spring 2016 National Heritage Areas Newsletter.

According to Tyler, National Heritage Areas program manager for the National Park Service, this year’s centennial celebrations are intended to engage the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates, and the 49 congressionally designated Heritage Areas around the country are an integral part of the process.

“National Heritage Areas help us achieve this goal by exposing grassroots movements, heritage tourists, and community members to the benefits of having a partnership with the National Park Service in their community,” said Tyler.

The Smithsonian presentation attracted over 70 guests who were eager to hear from Steele and Campbell, as well as to learn about the MDNHA. In addition to receiving words of wisdom directly from Campbell, audience members were treated to a presentation from special guest and Mound Bayou native Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights activists Myrlie Evers-Williams and Medgar Evers. Myrlie Evers-Williams also is a Delta Jewel.

Tull, board member of the museum, was moved by the presentation. “Mrs. Evers family has endured, struggled and fought through things no family should have to face,” he said. “Having her speak with such grace, strength and aplomb was a reminder and inspiration for all of us that face difficult situations to endure as well.”

The Smithsonian presentation follows a series of successful Delta Jewels presentations which have engaged over 700 Delta residents and visitors from diverse backgrounds in several Mississippi Delta communities including Clarksdale, Cleveland, Charleston, Indianola, Itta Bena, Mound Bayou, Ruleville, Vicksburg and Yazoo City.

 

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MDNHA, Delta Jewels partnership visits the White House

Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, whose portrait graces the cover of "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom," recently enjoyed a visit to the White House.

Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, whose portrait graces the cover of "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom," recently enjoyed a visit to the White House.

When University of Mississippi journalism professor Alysia Burton Steele embarked on a journey to record oral histories from African American church women in the Mississippi Delta over three years ago, she was not sure exactly where the journey would take her.

It started at as labor of love to reconnect with her recently deceased grandmother, which led to the publishing of her critically acclaimed book “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” The book led to an oral history partnership with the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, a partnership that culminated in an opportunity for Annyce Campbell, featured on the book cover, to visit the White House in Washington, D.C.

“When they said they wanted the woman whose portrait graces the book cover to attend the presentation, I knew that we had to get Mrs. Campbell to the White House,” said Steele. “She was so proud when President Obama was elected. So much so that the walls in her home are filled with portraits of the president and first lady.”

The visit occurred March 12 during a trip to the nation’s capital for a presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. The Smithsonian program was held in honor of Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial, which is about reconnecting people with their national parks, especially those from underrepresented communities. The White House is part of President’s Park, a National Park Service site.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Campbell still lives in the Mound Bayou, Mississippi home where she and her husband of 69 years raised their nine children. The election of the first African American President of the United States was something she never imagined would happen in her lifetime. Her goal was to enable her family to have opportunities she never enjoyed. She was thrilled that she and her daughters would get a chance to experience the visit together.

“That moment — visiting the White House with my daughters — was more than my mind could conceive,” said Campbell. “I held my ID in my hand for so long. How many more stops do I get to make? Where do we get to go next? Who do we get to meet? I can’t fully express the joy of that trip. Everyone should have an opportunity like this in their lifetime.”

The trip to the White House was not part of the original itinerary. It wasn’t until Campbell landed in D.C. that the tour was finalized.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Mossi Tull, board member for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, sponsored Campbell’s travel to Washington.

“My grandparents were from Kentwood, Louisiana, and I spent many summers down there,” he said. “Visiting with Mrs. Campbell and her daughters brought back so many wonderful memories for me, and reminded me of the importance of my own family. We laughed. We smiled. We celebrated the fact that we were all together in that moment. It was truly a wonderful afternoon.”

Through the efforts of Maggie Tyler, Southeast Region National Heritage Areas program manager, Campbell was able to participate in the tour with her daughters Emily Harris and Alma Campbell, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State.

“I was so excited to walk up to the White House gates with them and give Mrs. Campbell her tour ticket and introduce her to the NPS ranger working that day,” said Tyler. “Everyone was so gracious to Mrs. Campbell and her daughters and they were all beaming from ear to ear.  It’s these small moments that make me proud to work for the National Park Service.”

The Delta Center serves as the managing entity of the MDNHA. The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of the Mississippi Delta’s history and culture through education, partnerships, and community engagement. According to Herts, serendipitous moments like this are precisely why their efforts are so important.

“This White House visit is significant on so many levels,” said Herts. “It represents a lifelong dream come true for Mrs. Campbell, her family and her community. It represents the kind of powerful connections that are being made between people and national parks, which is what the National Park Service Centennial is all about. And it represents a story that will be told again and again, which is part of a rich oral history tradition that we are celebrating and honoring with Alysia Burton Steele.”

Steele spent the early years of her career as a photojournalist and editor. She never viewed herself as an oral historian, but through the Delta Jewels project has discovered the craft to be her new passion. Working with the MDNHA and The Delta Center, Steele has been empowered to share the importance of telling stories that have often been left untold and to demonstrate the positive effect conversations can have on communities.

“It’s pretty simple, really, why this important. We’re not going to learn and grow if we don’t talk to each other,” said Steele.

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