Mississippi Blues Don’t Make You Blue!
Who da’ thought that tooling down to the Mississippi coast would be such a learning experience!
Our first stop on our way to Buccaneer State Park in Waveland, Mississippi was Dardanelle State Park in Arkansas. We know this place. It is peaceful and even more peaceful this time of year. Arriving at sunset I hurried to break out my camera for a shot of the gorgeous rays on the water and the mountains. Luck was my friend. Two children were trolling the lake in a Jon boat. Their silhouettes were breath taking. As they came close to the shore I said to them, “This is so beautiful.” One of the young boys replied, “Yeah, and we got a lot more places even more beautiful than this around here.” The other boy said, “You ain’t from around here, are you?” I asked them how they knew that I lived somewhere else. “You don’t talk like us.” I said, “How should I talk?” And they replied in unison, “Southern!”
Our trusty motorhome took us across fields of harvested cotton for hundreds of miles. Along the edge of every road and highway were puffs of cotton that clung to the weeds. It looked like snow but at 70 degrees we knew it could not be snow. Bales of cotton lined the side of the road ready to be transported. I reasoned, “If cotton was really worth anything, people would be picking up all the cotton along the roads.”
On a beautiful sunny day as we crossed Arkansas, the skies were suddenly
filled with black smoke. For many miles we could see fire in the fields at least six feet high. What a hazard! We supposed the burning was intentional because we could find no alerts on the Internet.
We planned to investigate Clarksdale, Mississippi because Tom has enrolled in a weeklong intensive harmonica class there in April of 2018. We left the highway and crept through some narrow streets only to discover that we could not visit downtown because the overpass was one foot shorter than our RV. We will save this adventure for another day when we rent a car. Tom did find the Shack Up Inn where we will be staying in April. It is a working plantation with refurbished sharecropper shacks and has become a blues destination!
Indianola, Mississippi was our next stop. Here they have built a $16 million dollar museum dedicated to the late B.B. King, the blues singer and player. It was top-notch and more than enjoyable to learn about his life. Orphaned at four years old then living with his grandmother for another four years, he found himself alone when she died. Finally a relative came to his
rescue when we was a teenager and sent him to school. The museum did not mention if he had studied music formally. His notebook demonstrated that he understood chord changes and keys!
He led a wandering life. During his career two marriages failed as he dedicated his life to music. When he died in 2015, he had fathered 15 children and gladly paid for all of their educations. King’s music is legendary around the world and Mississippi has dedicated September 1 as BB King Day. This place is a must-see if you visit Mississippi.
“I’m going to Jackson, I’m going to mess around,” sang Johnny Cash. The Jackson stop was not planned but after reading about the town, we decided to stay two days in order to walk its streets. On the fly, we rented a car, and began our lonely tourist discovery. I say lonely because Jackson is the state capitol but hardly anyone was enjoying it. The streets were empty.
Jackson is an anomaly. Part of the city is thriving and the other areas are dying (or dead). The old and new capitols, war memorial building and old city hall, are handsome flowers on the streets where they reside. But more than half of the town is empty. Ornate skyscrapers and storefronts are boarded up. If you wanted to shop, you had to visit a museum store! Mold covers sidewalks and buildings. Streets are in need of repair!
We stopped to take a photo of the governor’s mansion and a white-shirted man holding a folder stopped to talk with us. He was the economic development person for the city. He asked about our visit. We told him we were interested in Jackson’s history and architecture and some of the museums. He talked to us about the difficulty of Mississippi’s past and the new civil rights museum that was about to open. He was so kind.
One of the main reasons we stopped in Jackson was to visit the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. “It is the only one in the United States,” barked the brochure. We wondered how a museum like this could be in Jackson? We soon found the
museum. The building in which it is housed is the failing Art Center which has been neglected for at least a decade. We made our way up the stairs to the museum. No one was at the door. We peeked in at a few exhibits that looked like high school projects and determined that we knew more about Islam than the museum. This was such a disappointment for us!
Tax-base Eroded by White Flight
Later we discovered that after the schools were forced to integrate, light-skinned people moved away from Jackson and enrolled their children in private schools. This eroded the tax base and quality of education. Without taxes the city of Jackson could not be maintained. And, I had never thought about private schools being an escape from African Americans. I thought it had to do with religious beliefs! Racism is everywhere!
More later on our Mississippi holiday!
As always, this blog is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge