NEH "Most Southern Place" June Workshop: Day 3

 
Day 3: The Blues
 

Wednesday's session of the Most Southern Place on Earth workshop revolved around the blues, tracking the genre's development through the lens of broader social and cultural trends. The day began with a trip to Dockery Farms, the birthplace of the blues. After a brief stop at the crossroads, participants reflected on the legacy of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer at her gravesite. Next came a trip to the B.B. King Museum, located in the former workplace of the blues legend. Throughout the day, Dr. Edgar Smith shared a personal perspective on the people and places discussed, from his childhood picking cotton to his friendships with Fannie Lou Hamer and B.B. King. The evening concluded with a lecture by renowned ethnomusicologist Dr. David Evans, who narrated the evolution of the blues.

Click "Read more" above to see photos and explore a more detailed account of the day.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" June Workshop: Day 2

 
DAY 2: DIVERSITY IN THE DELTA
 

The Most Southern Place on Earth workshop continued on Tuesday, with a series of events focused on the cultural, religious, and musical diversity of the Delta. Participants first traveled to Greenville, where they visited the town's Chinese and black cemeteries. Raymond Wong shared his experience as one of the few remaining Chinese Americans in the Delta, highlighting Asian immigrants' contributions to the region's economy and culture. The group then stopped at the historic Hebrew Union Temple to learn about the Delta Jews from Temple Vice President Benji Nelkin. After stopping at a museum dedicated to the flood of 1927, the group headed back to Cleveland. In the afternoon, University of Mississippi Professor Dr. Charles Wilson gave a lecture on religious beliefs in the South, and later blues musician Bill Abel performed and taught participants about the history of music in the Delta.

Click "Read more" above to see photos and explore a more detailed account of the day.

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NEH "Most Southern Place" June Workshop: Day 1

 
Day 1
 

The Most Southern Place on Earth workshop, a collaborative effort by the Delta Center and the National Endowment for the Humanities, began its June session this Monday. Dr. Rolando Herts and Lee Aylward introduced participants to the history and culture of the Mississippi Delta region. After lunch at Senator's Place, the group watched LaLee's Kin, an Oscar-nominated documentary; met with Reggie Barnes, former superintendent of West Tallahatchie School District; and traveled to the site of the 1927 levee breach along the Mississippi River.  The evening concluded with a catfish dinner and blues performance at Airport Grocery.

Click "Read more" above to see photos and explore a more detailed account of the day.

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"The Most Southern Place on Earth" workshop begins eighth year with June Session

The Delta Center’s “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop began its eighth year this week with an opening reception at the Martin and Sue King Railroad Museum in downtown Cleveland on Sunday evening. 
 
The workshop, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, attracts thirty-six K-12 educators from across the country. Participants will spend a week in the Delta immersed in the history and culture of the region, interacting directly with its people and places.
 
Brooke Willis, a high school teacher from Greensboro, N.C., said she looks forward to combining her interest in the blues with her passion for history and civil rights. 
 
“I’m excited about looking at history and being in it versus the idea of learning about it through books and movies,” she said. “Actually being in the space, I’m really about getting in touch with the energy.”
 
Katherine Hackney of Marietta, Ga. said she is excited for the hands-on learning.
 
“I’ve been teaching a civil rights unit for 12 years, and I’m finally visiting the places I’ve been teaching about,” she said. “I felt like [the Delta] is a place where I could grow.”
 
This workshop has created a national network of over 500 educational and cultural ambassadors for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. 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 both nationally and globally.
 

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Interview with Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry: A lost and found file from The Delta Center for Culture and Learning

A couple of months ago, while searching for materials for our summer 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops, Lee Aylward, The Delta Center’s resident maven of marvelous storytelling, happened upon a mysterious white box tucked away in the corner of our storage room in Ewing Hall. 

“Though I did not recall seeing it there before, it looked oddly familiar to me,” said Lee, in her signature honeyed Southern drawl. “Something told me to pick it up and bring it downstairs to the office.” 

 The inside of Po’ Monkeys Lounge as seen at night clearly illustrates the transformation that occurs inside a jook joint. The Lounge is plastered with bright lights, tinsel, picture, letters, foil, and any other bright, colorful, or shiny decoration. - Kathleen Robbins, 2003

 The inside of Po’ Monkeys Lounge as seen at night clearly illustrates the transformation that occurs inside a jook joint. The Lounge is plastered with bright lights, tinsel, picture, letters, foil, and any other bright, colorful, or shiny decoration. - Kathleen Robbins, 2003

Lee and I soon discovered why the box looked so familiar to her: inside was a treasure trove of compact discs (you know, those shiny silver round plastic things that were once considered cutting-edge audio and data storage devices) from the early 2000’s, around the time that Lee started volunteering with The Delta Center as an oral history transcriber. The discs contain a plethora of Mississippi Delta voices waiting to be uploaded and shared with a brave new online world. Among those voices is a particularly iconic one: the late Willie Seaberry, better known as Po’ Monkey, proud proprietor of the legendary jook joint Po’ Monkey’s Lounge in Merigold, Mississippi. 

Willie Seaberry passed away in July 2016 on a Thursday night, known as “Family Night,” a special time when locals and tourists from around the country and the world would gather at the storied establishment. As is tradition, that particular Thursday, we were taking a group of NEH “Most Southern” workshop participants and Robertson Scholars from Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill to experience the heart and soul of America’s last known rural jook house. The Delta Blues scene has not been quite the same since his unexpected passing.

Below is a transcript of a January 2003 interview with Willie Seaberry conducted by Dr. Luther Brown, the retired Founding Director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and his colleague, the late Dr. Henry Outlaw who passed away in February 2015. Lee, who has been with The Delta Center nearly as long as it has been in existence, often tells visiting groups that The Delta Center was started in the year 2000 to “give the people of the Delta back their heritage.” 

Mr. Seaberry standing in front of some of his collection of pictures, post cars, and other decorative items. - Kathleen Robbins, 2003

Mr. Seaberry standing in front of some of his collection of pictures, post cars, and other decorative items. - Kathleen Robbins, 2003

In keeping with that fundamental value, it made perfect sense to assign the task of transcribing the interview to Keith Johnson, a Mississippi Delta native who is the grand-nephew of Muddy Waters and also is a rising young Blues musician in his own right, being a recent winner of the Vicksburg Blues Challenge. Keith is a graduate assistant with the International Delta Blues Project which is housed in The Delta Center. Will Jacks, a visionary Mississippi Delta native photographer and Delta State University faculty member, also advised on the transcription process, as Keith wanted to create a video synopsis of the interview that could appeal to fellow Millennials. Will’s book on Po’ Monkey’s is being published by University of Mississippi Press soon – be sure to check out his photo essay published in Mississippi Arts Commission’s Mississippi Folklife about it. 

As the old saying goes, no one works alone. That was the case with The Delta Center then as it is now. Dr. Brown worked with Willie Seaberry and Dr. Outlaw on this interview. He also engaged photographer Kathleen Robbins, a faculty member in Delta State’s art department at the time, and Suli Yi, a journalist at Voice for America, to capture images and video before the interview was conducted. Kathleen and Suli’s artful contributions are featured in Dr. Brown’s essay “Inside Poor Monkey’s” published by the journal Southern Spaces in 2006.   

I shared the interview transcript with Dr. Brown before it was posted here. This was his response: 

I had forgotten that Monkey was so talkative this time.  We tried interviewing him a couple of other times and he just wouldn’t talk to the tape recorder.  Several things did come out of this interview, but we never completed the multi-author article. I believe Kathleen left DSU [Delta State University] and took another job shortly after the interview, and we just never got back to the project. I wrote an article for Southern Spaces – better check the date though because I don’t remember if it was before or after the interview.  We did produce the posters featuring Kathleen’s photos. Those photos are talked about in the interview, and it sounds like they were taken just prior.  
We also succeeded in getting a Blues Trail historic marker for [Po’] Monkey’s, and the planning for that would have begun around the interview time, although installation might have been later.  In any case, that marker was one of the first set of markers, so it was installed not too long after this interview.  We also got 2003 declared the Year of the Blues in Mississippi, by Governor Musgrove, who is also mentioned in the interview.  I think we took him to Monkey’s after he came over to our house for dinner, when we discussed him proclaiming the Year of the Blues. 
Another consequence of this interview is that the Bolivar County Supervisors did change the name of the road to “Po’ Monkey’s Road.”  They also then paved a bit of the road on the west side of Monkey’s so that tour buses could come (many bus companies refused to drive on unpaved roads).  There were once road signs, but so many of them were stolen that the County stopped putting them up.  The [Delta] Center produced metal road signs and sold them to visitors at one time. 

Dr. Brown also shared with me that this recording was not meant to be treated as an oral history. He said it is “more like a fact finding interview that we were using in preparation for writing and talking about Monkey and his Lounge.” 

It is in this spirit that The Delta Center makes this rare recording available to the general public, particularly for researchers, writers, Blues enthusiasts, students, music and cultural critics, fans of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, and anyone else who may be searching for something that might have seemed lost but was there all along, waiting to be discovered and shared. 

Yes, this is for you – for all of you: the found voice of Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry. 

  • Dr. Rolando Herts, Director, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning
    Monday, May 22, 2017
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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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Delta Center collaborates with NPR for series of regional stories

We were thrilled when NPR's Melissa Block contacted us recently to help with stories she was creating for her Our Land series. She wanted to find stories in the Delta that weren't the typical fare. It was an honor to assist her in finding those topics.

Melissa visited the region at during early March, and the series aired not long after. If you haven't had a chance to listen yet, please visit the links below. We think you'll enjoy what she created.

 

 

 

 

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International Blues Scholars Registration Opens

Delta State University is proud to announce the creation of the International Blues Scholars Program, a global online certificate program that is part of the International Delta Blues Project housed in the Delta Center for Culture and Learning. This multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the Blues includes not only in-depth examination of the musical form, but also a scholarly lens on its influence in art, literature, history, and economic development.

Registration for the program is currently open and will last until April 15. Tuition assistance is available for qualifying students.

The International Blues Scholars Program is an online academic certificate program available to students all over the world. Students may register for up to 12 hours of graduate or undergraduate level courses. Those completing all 12 hours will receive a Certificate of Completion from Delta State University.

Courses offered this summer include Sociology of the Blues, taught by acclaimed Blues scholar Scott Barretta who was recently awarded the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for Mississippi Heritage, and Psychology of Hip Hop and the Blues, lead by Delta State professor Temika Simmons, a recent recipient of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning's Award for Excellence in Diversity. Additional courses are History of Rock n Roll, Blues Literature, and Modern American History: History of the 20th Century South.

 

 

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