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Delta Center to present First Tuesday Blues session

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University will present a First Tuesday session focused on the International Delta Blues Project on March 15 at 12:10 p.m. in the Fielding Wright Art Center.

The session will have a special focus on the Blues Studies program that has launched at Delta State.

First Tuesday guests will be treated to a lecture from renowned Blues historian Scott Barretta, host of Highway 61 Radio and recipient of the 2016 Mississippi’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for Mississippi heritage. Barretta will teach the Sociology of the Blues course for the International Blues Scholars Program, a new online undergraduate and graduate certificate in Blues Studies that is being offered during the 2016 summer session. The online program will be available to Blues students and aficionados around the world.

The Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project, an initiative aimed at advancing Delta State University as the academic home of the Blues. The project is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation in Jackson and consists of the following components:

 • The interdisciplinary Blues Studies program that includes courses offered through various academic units at Delta State including music, languages and literature, social sciences and history, and the Delta Music Institute.

 • The International Conference on the Blues, an educational and cultural conference that has featured renowned and emerging Blues scholars, as well as award-winning Blues musicians.

 • The Blues Leadership Incubator, a series of lectures and workshops for the public and business community aimed at providing a deeper understanding of economic opportunity related to Blues tourism and the creative economy.

First Tuesday is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and is a program by the Art Department and the First Tuesday Committee. The events are normally scheduled for the first Tuesday of each month during the fall and spring semesters. First Tuesday features lectures, readings and presentations representing diverse perspectives in the arts and humanities. All events are free and open to the public.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops. For more information, visit www.deltacenterdsu.com.

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Final Grant Workshop Approaching

The 5th and final grants workshop for the MS Delta National Heritage Area Grants Program will be held at the DESOTO COUNTY TOURISM ASSOCIATION TOURIST INFORMATION CENTER, 4716 Pepper Chase Drive, Southaven, MS 38671. We hope to see you there, and if you have any questions, please call The Delta Center at DSU, 662-846-4311.

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MDNHA to provide grant workshops

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a cultural heritage partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The program is led by Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University.

This year, in fulfillment of its management plan, the MDNHA is launching a new grants program. A series of regional workshops will be held to educate and inform the people of the Mississippi Delta on how to apply for these grants.

The dates, times and locations for the workshops are:

(all workshops are scheduled to take place from 1:30-4 p.m.)

*Jan. 14, 2016
Clarksdale/Coahoma County Tourism
326 Blues Alley, Clarksdale, MS

*Jan. 19, 2016
Mississippi Valley State University
Auditorium 103, first floor of William Sutton Administration Building
14000 HWY 82 W, Itta Bena, MS

*Jan. 26, 2016
Sharkey-Issaquena County Library
116 East China Street, Rolling Fork, MS

*Jan. 28, 2016
The Capps Center, Room 101
920 US-82, Indianola, MS

For more information, contact The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at 662-846-4311, or emailhmiller@deltastate.edu.

The MDNHA includes 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington and Yazoo. 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 www.msdeltaheritage.com.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

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Pictures from Monday’s blues conference events

Dr. William Ferris, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore, delivers the keynote address at the second annual International Conference on the Blues Monday at Delta State University. Ferris the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore. The conference continues Tuesday, ending with a free concert featuring Bobby Rush and James “Super Chikan” Johnson. For more information, visit www.deltastate.edu/blues. Photos by Rory Doyle.

Dr. William Ferris, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore, delivers the keynote address at the second annual International Conference on the Blues Monday at Delta State University. Ferris the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore. The conference continues Tuesday, ending with a free concert featuring Bobby Rush and James “Super Chikan” Johnson. For more information, visit www.deltastate.edu/blues. Photos by Rory Doyle.

GRAMMY winner Dom Flemons (right) and Don Allan Mitchell, co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues, during one of the conference sessions on Monday. Flemons is the “American Songster,” pulling from traditions of old-time folk music to create new sounds. Having performed music professionally since 2005, he has played live for over one million people within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals, spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry. The International Conference on the Blues continues Tuesday. For more information, visit www.deltastate.edu/blues. Photos by Rory Doyle.

GRAMMY winner Dom Flemons (right) and Don Allan Mitchell, co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues, during one of the conference sessions on Monday. Flemons is the “American Songster,” pulling from traditions of old-time folk music to create new sounds. Having performed music professionally since 2005, he has played live for over one million people within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals, spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry. The International Conference on the Blues continues Tuesday. For more information, visit www.deltastate.edu/blues. Photos by Rory Doyle.

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Mississippi Blues Commission names B.B. King Secretary of State of the Blues

Blues legend B.B. King, Mississippi's Secretary of State of the Blues, surrounded by friends and admirers at the dedication of the "Kilmichael: B.B. King's Roots" Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Aug. 21, 2012 in Kilmichael, Miss. (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

Blues legend B.B. King, Mississippi's Secretary of State of the Blues, surrounded by friends and admirers at the dedication of the "Kilmichael: B.B. King's Roots" Mississippi Blues Trail marker on Aug. 21, 2012 in Kilmichael, Miss. (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

The Mississippi Blues Commission has designated music legend B.B. King as Mississippi’s Secretary of State of the Blues. One of the most renowned musicians in the world, King passed away in May of 2015.

Mississippi is the first and only state to recognize the contributions of a musician in this manner. The commission will be presenting the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center with a resolution for this recognition signed by Gov. Phil Bryant and the four living previous governors of Mississippi: Gov. William F. Winter, 1984-1988; Gov. Ray Mabus, 1988-1992; Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, 2000-2004; and Gov. Haley Barbour, 2004-2012. The resolution will be part of the permanent collection at the B.B. King Museum & Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss.

The resolution will be presented at the International Conference on the Blues at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. The conference, presented by the International Delta Blues Project and a diverse array of regional partners, includes a Blues Brunch featuring a panel discussion moderated by noted blues scholar Dr. William Ferris and comprised of members of the Mississippi Blues Commission. Blues legends Bobby Rush and James “Super Chikan” Johnson will also be in attendance. The presentation of the resolution will take place during the conference’s brunch event on Oct. 6 at 9:30 a.m. in the Delta Music Institute on Delta State’s campus.

“On behalf of the entire Mississippi Blues Commission, it is a privilege to honor B.B. King as our Mississippi Secretary of State of the Blues,” said J. Kempf Poole, chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission. “Mr. King is one of Mississippi’s most influential sons, and with this designation I am proud to say that B.B. King has taken his rightful place at the head of the blues table.”

Known worldwide as “The King of the Blues,” King was considered one of the most influential musicians of all time. His artistic contributions and accolades are numerous and span decades. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the R&B Music Hall of Fame, King received more than a dozen GRAMMY Awards between 1970-2010, including the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and a GRAMMY Hall of Fame Award for his historically significant recording “The Thrill is Gone.”

An emotional King is surrounded by Mississippi legislators in Jackson, Miss. as he is presented with a concurrent resolution naming Feb. 15, 2005, as B.B. King Day.   (Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

An emotional King is surrounded by Mississippi legislators in Jackson, Miss. as he is presented with a concurrent resolution naming Feb. 15, 2005, as B.B. King Day.
(Photo credit: Mississippi Blues Commission)

During the 1990s, he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors. During the 2000s, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize, and President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from Tougaloo College, Yale University and Brown University, King was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as No. 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

“Mississippi is known the world over as the birthplace of America’s music, and B.B. King is one of its founding legends and one of our state’s most treasured gifts to the music world,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “For decades, our souls have been stirred by his talents. From juke joints to concert halls, there is no place his influence hasn’t reached. Deborah and I are saddened by B.B.’s passing. Mississippi has lost a legend. He is the king. The thrill is gone.”

Former Gov. Haley Barbour echoed Bryant’s sentiments.

“B.B. King was a wonderful ambassador for Mississippi,” said Barbour. “The King of the Blues never forgot Mississippi was home, and he graced us often with his presence. He will be missed. Marsha and I had him for lunch at the Governor’s Mansion on a day he was honored by the legislature. He was warm and delightful, but I will never forget how he gave credit to the people that had helped him throughout his career. He had a big heart as well as big talent.”

The Mississippi Blues Commission is a body of 18 appointed commissioners representing major organizations and geographic/political regions supporting blues initiatives throughout the state. One of the commission’s major projects is ongoing governance of the Mississippi Blues Trail, which began unofficially with two preliminary markers placed in Indianola, which King adopted as his hometown. Highlighting the importance of his contributions, the first marker was placed at a corner where King played as a young man. The other was placed at historic Club Ebony, which is now part of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

Continuous expansion of the Mississippi Blues Trail throughout the state, country and the world is a testament to the global influence of blues music and culture. The Mississippi Blues Trail consists of more than 170 markers throughout the state. There also are 14 out-of-state Blues Trail markers, two of which are located outside of the U.S. — one in Norway, commemorating the Notodden Blues Festival, and the other in France, commemorating the Cahors Blues Festival.

“Local and global tourism and cultural heritage influences of the Mississippi Blues Trail will be discussed during the Blues Brunch at the International Conference on the Blues,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, a member of the Blues Commission, and director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “Members of the commission will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Mississippi Delta native and blues and southern studies expert Dr. Bill Ferris from UNC Chapel Hill. This is an appropriate venue for the Mississippi Blues Commission to pay homage to B.B. King, a local hero whose musicianship and life achievements have helped to put the Mississippi Delta on the international map as a blues heritage destination.”

The Mississippi Blues Trail has been made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, AT&T, and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University. The program is housed within and managed by the Mississippi Development Authority’s Visit Mississippi.

For more information, contact Mary Margaret Miller, bureau manager for Creative Economy & Culture at Visit Mississippi, at mmmiller@mississippi.org or 601-213-7300.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

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International Conference on the Blues brings musicians, music scholars to campus

The Second Annual International Conference on the Blues promises to bring legendary entertainment and academics to Delta State University on Monday, Oct. 5 and Tuesday, Oct. 6, including GRAMMY award-winning Blues artist Dom Flemons, former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Dr. William Ferris, an historic statewide proclamation honoring B.B. King and a free performance from GRAMMY-nominated Blues musician Bobby Rush and Mississippi Governor’s Award-winning Blues musician James “Super Chikan” Johnson.

The conference, which is still open for registration, brings together Blues scholars, historians and fans from all over the United States in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, a place known as the epicenter of Blues music and history.

Among the highlights of this year’s Blues conference:
* the bestowing of a statewide proclamation signed by all five living Mississippi governors designating B.B. King as the “Mississippi’s Secretary of State of the Blues”;
* a keynote address by Blues scholar and Southern culture historian Dr. William Ferris of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill;
* a master class and performance from GRAMMY winner Dom Flemons, known as the “American Songster”;
* events highlighting Blues music songwriters and performers including ‘Blues in the Round’ sponsored by Visit Mississippi;
* and “The Storytellers featuring Bobby Rush and Super Chikan: Up Close and Personal”, a free public concert sponsored by the International Delta Blues Project and the Bologna Performing Arts Center.

Visit here for a complete schedule of events, or here for a complete list of presenters.

“This year’s International Conference on the Blues represents the power of the Blues to strengthen partnerships and to engage diverse communities on local, regional, national, and global scales,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. “We appreciate the generous support of the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and other organizations that are making this conference possible, including Visit Mississippi, Entergy, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, Bridging the Blues, Mississippi Blues Commission, BPAC, Mississippi Grounds, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, the Dockery Farms Foundation and several other sponsors and partners. Through these relationships, Delta State University is empowered to offer an unparalleled educational and cultural experience to its students, faculty, and staff, as well as Delta residents and visitors.”

The second annual conference is part of the International Delta Blues Project, which is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Foundation and is based at The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. The conference is being managed by a team of campus and community collaborators including the Delta Music Institute, the Department of Music, the Division of Languages & Literature, the Office of Institutional Grants, and Cleveland Tourism.

“I always marvel at the variety of scholars that our conference attracts,” said Dr. Shelley Collins, a professor in the Department of Music and co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues. “Either our presenters are alums of these schools, graduate students at these universities, or teach at the following institutions: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, George Washington University, The University of North Texas, the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho, the University of Oregon, Indiana University, Loyola University of New Orleans, Columbus State University, the New York City Public Schools, and Perm State University in Russia.”

Flemons who is known the “American Songster,” has performed music professionally since 2005 and has played live for over one million people just within the past three years. As part of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, he has played at a variety of festivals spanning from the Newport Folk Festival to Bonnaroo, in addition to renowned venues such as the Grand Ole Opry.

Ferris, a widely recognized leader in Southern studies, African American music, and folklore, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the senior associate director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South. He is also adjunct professor in the curriculum on folklore.

The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Ferris has conducted thousands of interviews with musicians ranging from the famous (B.B. King) to the unrecognized (Parchman Penitentiary inmates working in the fields). He has written or edited 10 books and created 15 documentary films.

“Bill Ferris is a personal hero of mine,” said Don Allan Mitchell, interim chair of the Division of Languages & Literature and co-chair of the International Conference on the Blues. “Every Blues class I teach, I have my students read his groundbreaking Blues from the Delta book, which is an essential text for any Blues scholar or fan.”

Mitchell said the appearance by Flemons expected to be an exciting part of the conference.

“Dom Flemons is known for his work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, but he is also a walking American songbook, and his knowledge and expertise in playing the country Blues and classic Blues is phenomenal,” Mitchell said.

This year’s conference promises to build on the vision established for the event when it began last year, Mitchell added.

“We hope to establish a long-term and sustainable Blues musicology conference, and we especially want to foster the next generation of emerging scholars of the African American Blues tradition,” he said. “Yes, the Mississippi Delta has a legacy tied to the Delta Blues, but the Blues has become a world-wide music, and we want to examine all genres of the Blues and its ever-present global influence. We know that Cleveland & Delta State prides itself on hospitality, so we think we are a perfect place to host such scholarly dialogues.”

For more information, please contact Mitchell and Collins at blues@deltastate.edu.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

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Stolle to present blues lecture in Clarksdale

Roger Stolle will present a lecture on blues entrepreneurship and the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy as part of Delta State University’s International Conference on the Blues Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center.

Roger Stolle will present a lecture on blues entrepreneurship and the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy as part of Delta State University’s International Conference on the Blues Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center.

Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale, Miss,, will present a lecture on blues entrepreneurship and the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy as part of Delta State University’s International Conference on the Blues.

The pre-conference lecture event will take place Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center, a Delta State satellite campus located at 109 Clark St. in Clarksdale. The lecture is free and open to the public through a partnership between CCHEC and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, which is the home of the International Delta Blues Project.

“I am so pleased to be working with the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University to offer this lecture at the CCHEC campus,” said Jen Waller, director of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center. “Roger Stolle has been a blessing to the Clarksdale community for years. He has used his passion, drive and skillset to promote the music that he loves. His story is inspiring and certainly worth listening to.”

The International Delta Blues Project features three components: the International Conference on the Blues, which will take place at Delta State’s main campus in Cleveland on Oct. 5-6; the Blues Studies minor, which has launched this fall semester at Delta State; and the Blues Leadership Incubator, which focuses on blues and economic development.

Stolle’s lecture represents one in a series of lectures and workshops that are part of the Blues Leadership Incubator. These lectures and workshops are designed to provide the public with a deeper understanding of the Mississippi Delta’s creative economy.

“Delta State is a regional institution that serves the Mississippi Delta through educational, cultural and economic development,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. “This lecture will provide an opportunity for the Clarksdale community to learn more about how the International Delta Blues Project is doing this by engaging accomplished creative economy professionals like Roger Stolle to share their knowledge and expertise with Delta communities.”

After a successful 13-year marketing career in corporate America, Stolle moved to Clarksdale in 2002 to “organize and promote the blues from within.” He is the author of the book “Hidden History of Mississippi Blues” and co-producer of the films “M for Mississippi” and “We Juke Up in Here.” He co-founded several Clarksdale based music and cultural festivals including the Juke Joint Festival, the Clarksdale Film Festival, the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest, and the Delta Busking Festival. He is also the recipient of the Keeping The Blues Alive Award and the Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation.

“We in Mississippi — especially Clarksdale — were building a creative economy before there was even a name for it,” said Stolle. “When I moved to Clarksdale 13 years ago, we had live blues just two nights a week, one festival per year and one museum. Today, we have live blues seven nights a week, over half a dozen festivals and two museums. We also have a dozen new businesses downtown and at least 150 additional hotel rooms.”

Don Allan Mitchell, co-chair of the blues conference, and a Delta State professor, is excited to add Stolle to the conference schedule.

“Mr. Stolle’s bold business decision to open up Cat Head in 2002 is exactly the visionary, entrepreneurial thinking that we know will inspire our students at Delta State, as well as our wider Delta Community,” said Mitchell. “It is an honor that Roger is so supportive of the conference.”

In addition to catalyzing Clarksdale’s revitalization through blues music and culture, Stolle is a highly sought after marketing, public relations, and artist booking expert both locally and globally. He has worked with a wide array of clients including the Mississippi Blues Trail, and many blues record labels, festivals, and non-profit organizations.

He has also booked Mississippi bluesmen on numerous festivals and tours — taking Delta legends such as Big George Brock, James “T-Model” Ford and Robert “Bilbo” Walker to countries like Italy, Switzerland, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Brazil.

To register for attendance at Stolle’s lecture and for more information, contact Jen Waller via email atjwaller@deltastate.edu or phone at 662-645-3555.

To register for the International Conference on the Blues, visit the conference website athttp://www.deltastate.edu/president/international-blues-conference/.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

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Cast of Blues

Cast of Blues

Sharon McConnell-Dickerson preserves the legacy of Blues artists in a unique way - life-casts from paster. Her work is on display at the Delta Center gallery located in the lobby of Ewing Hall at Delta State. Find out more here.

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NEH “Most Southern” workshops create Delta ambassadors

In total, 72 K-12 teachers from across the nation took part in this summer's "Most Southern Place on Earth" workshops. Photos by Amy Kramer and Brady Gilliam.

In total, 72 K-12 teachers from across the nation took part in this summer's "Most Southern Place on Earth" workshops. Photos by Amy Kramer and Brady Gilliam.

The National Endowment for the Humanities’ “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop, presented twice this summer (June 21-27 and July 12-18) by The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, exposed 72 K-12 teachers from throughout the United States to the Mississippi Delta’s rich history and cultural heritage. Workshop participants represented 33 states, including Alaska, California, Florida, New Hampshire and Indiana. Several teachers from Mississippi participated as well, including a teacher from Mound Bayou.

Over the past six years, the NEH workshops have brought over $1 million in federal grants to Delta State University. Through these grants, the workshops have generated educational and economic spread effects regionally and nationally.

The workshop model uses an experiential learning approach, giving participants direct contact with and access to historically and culturally significant people and places in the Mississippi Delta. Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center, said this approach inspires deeper understanding of historical events among the participants. The approach also stimulates economic activity, as workshop participants stay in hotels, dine in restaurants and visit educational attractions in Cleveland, Bolivar County and the Delta region.

“This blending of educational and tourism-centered economic activity is beneficial to the Mississippi Delta’s federal designation as a National Heritage Area,” said Herts. “The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the region and the National Park Service to raise awareness of the value of the Mississippi Delta’s rich cultural heritage.”

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. Over the years, many past participants have made return visits to the region, bringing others with them, which has broadened the workshop’s educational and economic impact for the MDNHA.

Dr. Luther Brown, former director of The Delta Center, returned to serve as lead facilitator of this year’s workshops, with support from Lee Aylward, and Brady Gilliam and Amy Kramer, both Robertson Scholars from Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Workshop participants heard presentations from blues, southern religion and great migration experts, including: Dr. David Evans, professor of ethnomusicology and regional Studies, University of Memphis; Mississippi Delta native, Dr. Edgar Smith, former vice president of Academic Affairs, University of Massachusetts System; Dr. Charles Reagan Wilson, former director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, University of Mississippi; and Dr. John Strait, professor of geography at Sam Houston State University.

In addition, workshop participants were engaged with living historical figures, including civil rights activis Charles McLaurin, who met Fannie Lou Hamer while working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Cathy Wong, who spoke about the presence of Chinese in the Delta and their cultural influence; and key people involved with the Emmett Till story, including Till’s cousins Simeon Wright and Wheeler Parker, both of whom were with Till before his murder.

Participants also visited many historical and educational points of interest throughout the region, including: Dockery Farm, known as the birthplace of the blues, located between Cleveland and Ruleville; Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou; Emmett Till Intrepid Center in Glendora; blues legend Robert Johnson’s gravesite at Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Fort Pemberton in Greenwood; and the 1927 Flood Museum, Century of History Museum at Hebrew Union Congregation, and Chinese and African American cemeteries in Greenville. The group also traveled to Memphis, the Delta’s largest city, to visit The Cotton Museum, National Civil Rights Museum and Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the NEH’s “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area 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 athttp://www.msdeltaheritage.com.

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Delta Jewels oral history session hosted

WILL interns and Dr. Morford from the University of Illinois Laboratory High School pose in front of Coahoma County Higher Education Center with Alysia Burton Steele (left) and Dr. Rolando Herts (right) of The Delta Center.

WILL interns and Dr. Morford from the University of Illinois Laboratory High School pose in front of Coahoma County Higher Education Center with Alysia Burton Steele (left) and Dr. Rolando Herts (right) of The Delta Center.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the Coahoma County Higher Education Center recently hosted an oral history session in Clarksdale. The session featured University of Mississippi photojournalism professor Alysia Burton Steele, author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom,” a collection of oral histories and photographs of African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta.

Dr. Janet Morford, history teacher and director of the WILL oral history internship program (http://will.illinois.edu/community/project/university-high-documentaries) in the Department of Social Studies at University of Illinois Laboratory High School, brought 11 of her high school interns to the Delta to conduct oral histories. Morford is a June 2014 alumnus of The Delta Center’s National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop. She learned about Steele’s oral history work from Dr. Luther Brown, retired director of The Delta Center.

“The NEH Most Southern workshop creates highly committed and influential educational and cultural ambassadors for the Delta region,” said Brown. “Over the years, workshop alumni have made return visits to the Delta on their own, bringing students, co-workers, family and friends, introducing them to the culture and history of the region.”

“We are pleased that Dr. Brown remains connected to The Delta Center through the NEH Most Southern workshop,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, current director of The Delta Center. “He regularly sends Delta news e-blasts to our NEH alumni network, which now has over 500 members. The most recent e-blast led to the creation of this oral history session with Alysia Burton Steele, Dr. Morford and her students at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center, where they learned about doing oral history work in the Delta. They also learned about The Delta Center, the NEH workshop, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, and most importantly, each other.”

For the latest Most Southern e-blast, Herts encouraged Brown to include information about Steele’s “Gathering of the Delta Jewels” event taking place in Mound Bayou. When Morford read about it, she realized that her oral history team would be visiting the Delta during the event. She seized the opportunity to connect her students with Steele.

The Delta Center convened the group based on its relationships with Morford, Steele and the CCHEC through NEH, the MDNHA and Delta State. This yielded a rich conversation about the importance of connections in oral history work.

Morford and her team members were thrilled with the experience.

“Today’s session demonstrates that the circle of influence keeps widening for the NEH Most Southern Place on Earth workshop,” said Morford. “That’s the true spirit of the workshop and of doing oral history work. The more that we talk to each other, the more we learn from each other, and the more we realize that we still have much more to learn.”

Herts facilitated an overview of these connections, highlighting the roles and contributions of all session participants. Jen Waller, director of the CCHEC, gave a brief historical overview of the CCHEC complex and its relationship with Delta State.

 

Jen Waller, director of the CCHEC.

Jen Waller, director of the CCHEC.

“We are so pleased that Dr. Herts and The Delta Center used the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale as their meeting space for intellectual exchange,” said Waller. “As a satellite campus of DSU and Coahoma Community College, the CCHEC is the perfect setting for discussions focused on history, culture and life-long learning.”

The Delta Center’s Lee Aylward discussed how the group’s visit helps to fulfill and sustain the educational impact of the NEH workshop.

“Dr. Morford’s return visit with her class is an outstanding example of what the Delta Center had hoped would be an outcome of these very prestigious NEH workshops,” said Aylward. “We want our alumni to bring students and encourage friends and coworkers to visit the Delta and learn our history and its importance to the rest of the world.”

Herts shared The Delta Center’s mission and its work with the MDNHA to promote the history and culture of the Delta, in part through oral history research. This led to the introduction of Steele as the featured presenter.

Steele was thrilled that Morford contacted her about meeting with the WILL interns and was pleased that The Delta Center and CCHEC were willing to host the session. She made a special trip from Oxford to Clarksdale to participate in the session, ready to share the joys and challenges of the oral history craft.

 

Alysia Burton Steele (far right), author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.”

Alysia Burton Steele (far right), author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.”

“I was very impressed with the WILL interns and the depth and breadth of their knowledge about oral history research,” said Steele. “While they know a great deal already, they also were so very humble, which is so refreshing and encouraging. They were eager to learn by listening to me talk about how I gathered the stories from the Delta Jewels church mothers. Listening intently and respectfully, as well as knowing when to respond, are key skills in oral history research. This group obviously is highly skilled and well trained, so I must give kudos to their teachers, Dr. Morford and Mr. Sutton. They are doing great work.”

Bill Sutton, a history teacher at the University Laboratory School, who is traveling with Morford and the student interns, has made educational visits to the Delta in the past. He inspired Morford to apply for the NEH Most Southern workshop and is pleased to see the results of her participation.

“In addition to this session with Alysia being a high point of our trip, Janet’s experience with the NEH workshop has opened up more options for us to study and understand the Delta,” said Sutton. “I have been coming to the Delta for several years now. With Janet, our internship program leader and a NEH workshop alum, the visits will keep getting better and better. Janet bringing this knowledge and experience back to our school has been remarkable. Alysia also is remarkable, and The Delta Center and Delta State are tremendous educational and cultural resources. I have every expectation that we all will continue to work together in the future.”

“The fact that the WILL Interns have had such a meaningful exchange with Alysia Burton Steele shows that high school students can develop very high level skills – by doing oral history and by talking with experts like Alysia who have also engaged in this demanding but rewarding work,” added Morford. “Being able to come to the Mississippi Delta with the support of our school, and to engage with the resources of Delta State through this session, has been extremely valuable for our students. This truly has been a transformative educational and cultural experience for all of us.”

Student WILL Intern Iulianna Taritsa also appreciated the unique opportunity.

“My time in the Delta has been an amazing and enriching experience,” said Taritsa. “I could see and feel the rich history, and I am so glad that there are people like Alysia Burton Steele and organizations like The Delta Center for Culture and Learning that are helping others understand the significance of this area. I know our WILL team from Uni High has learned a lot from the people we met in the Delta and hopefully we will be able to tell our stories and theirs once we get back to Champaign-Urbana.”

The Delta Center has offered the NEH Most Southern workshop for the past six years. This summer, 74 K-12 educators from across the U.S. once again are being immersed in two six-day experiential learning workshops in the Mississippi Delta. Participants take what they have learned back to their schools, teaching students and colleagues about the rich history and cultural heritage of the Delta region. The Delta Center has engaged Brown to return to the region and facilitate the workshops.

The NEH Most Southern workshops are held at Delta State University and throughout the region. The dates for the 2015 workshops are June 21-27 and July 12-18. For more information, visithttp://deltacenterforcultureandlearning.com/southern-place-workshop/.

The mission of the Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/academics/delta-center-for-culture-and-learning/.

The Coahoma County Higher Ed Center is a partnership between Delta State University and Coahoma Community College. Its mission is to expand educational opportunity for the people in Coahoma County and surrounding counties by offering classes and events that will encourage personal development and promote a higher quality of life for all people in the Mississippi Delta.

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