Today we played hooky and went to the Mississippi Delta for a long, emotional and fun day in the land of cotton.
The delta is actually nowhere close to the Gulf of Mexico or the end of the Mississippi River. It is an area in northwest Mississippi that the river once filled with water. After the waters receded, rich fertile soil was left behind and it became the ideal place to raise cotton.
Before we got to the Delta, we stopped at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Miss., where B.B. King grew up. King’s real name is Riley and he was born in 1925 and became a blues legend.
In the Delta, we visited a series of small rural towns that were apart of the movement in one way or another. Today was also meeting the last Civil Rights worker on the trip, Margaret Block.
Block lives in Cleveland, Miss. and she worked all over Tallahatchie County, Miss. Her brother Sam is best known for his work in Greenwood, Miss. He went to jail every day for minor and insignificant mishaps with the police. We also learned that Block’s uncle was a spy for the Sovereign Council.
We also stopped at Dockery Farms, which used to be the largest cotton mill in the south. At one time, they owned 28,000 acres of land and employed 3,000 to 4,000 people. The blues are also rumored to have started here in the cotton fields that surround the farm.
Block now works with the Cleveland school district and parents to try to keep the two schools racially equal. The schools are becoming segregated once again, she said. The schools have to maintain a 50/50 balance of white and black students, but once they make that goal, they no longer need to maintain it and as students graduate, the schools become segregated.
Our first stop in the Delta was Cleveland, where we picked up Block and her niece. We stopped at the Amzie Moore house, built in 1941, where Moore started the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and was president of the local NAACP branch.
Moore worked with Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Medgar Evers, and Thurgood Marshall. They recruited a lot of people to join the local Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the NAACP.
Our next stop was the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville. This park and garden was rededicated in 2008 and features a statue of Fannie Lou Hamer and the graves of her and her husband, Perry “Pap” Hamer. Fannie Lou Hamer was the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and she spoke at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
We drove for a few more miles to the town of Money, where Emmett Till was brutally beaten and murdered for supposedly whistling or saying something to a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, outside of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. We also crossed the Tallahatchie River, where Emmett Till’s body was thrown after he was murdered.
The Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center (ETHIC) is located in Glendora, Miss., which is just a few miles away from Money. The museum is small, but powerful. Inside, it exhibited Emmett Till’s life from his time in Chicago to when he came down to Mississippi to stay with his uncle. The last exhibit in the museum was the funeral and the graphic photo of Emmett Till was also displayed.
Next we drove to Drew, where the Mississippi State Penitentiary is located. It was formerly known as Parchman Prison and held many Civil Rights workers. The prison has no walls surrounding the entire facility. Instead, it has separate units spread out, which are surrounded by walls with barbed wire. The land around the prison is also flat and has no trees surrounding it, just cornfields.
After Drew, we drove to Sumner, which is where the Tallahatchie County Courthouse is located. This courthouse is famous for the murder trials of Emmett Till. The trial last for five days and the all-white jury acquitted both defendants, Bryant and Milam.
We finally crawled out of the Delta and drove back to Jackson to attend a blues, jazz, hip-hop, and step show. We learned that stepping comes from South Africa and was passed down from generations of boot dances, a traditional African dance style. The show also featured local hip-hop artists from Jackson.