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    Volume 9 Issue 32| August 6, 2010|

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At the Mississippi Delta - I

There are two things that always come to my mind when I hear the word 'Mississippi' -- the times I spent in my sixth grade Geography class perfecting the spelling, and of course, the Blues. The day I learnt from the American Centre, that I was going to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities workshop in Mississippi, USA, to study the culture, history and music of the Mississippi Delta, I must say that I was not too enthusiastic. I thought the experience would probably be restricted to classroom lectures and a handful of museum visits -- a typical game plan, formatted specially for culture exchange programmes. Fortunately, however, I was wrong.

Elita Karim

Many cities and towns in the state of Mississippi still bear the signs of the massive historical flood, which had
practically destroyed Mississippi in 1927.

We are going to be late for the orientation programme, my conscience screamed inside my head, but I dared not say it out loud. I, Fabio from Brazil and Hasan from Turkey were all exhausted after flying all the way from Washington DC to Mississippi, not to mention the three-hour drive from Jackson International Airport to the Delta State University. Everyone was sleep deprived, dehydrated and almost dead on their feet. Nobody needed another sharp reminder of the fact that the only international participants in the workshop were lost in Cleveland, Mississippi, looking for the Railroad Museum where the orientation was taking place. Eventually, with the help of Michelle Miles, a fellow participant, and her GPS device, we finally reached the venue, 30 minutes late.

Most of the participants at the workshop titled -- The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the Mississippi Delta -- were public school teachers of history, music, literature and other areas of Humanities. Our classes would be held in a classroom on campus and also in many places of historical significance all over Mississippi. Not only were we given books to read and made to write papers, we were taken to various places to experience the thousands of stories that revolve inside and around the poorest state in the United States.

One of the stories that touched us immensely is the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy, who was lynched to death for apparently whistling at a white woman in a local grocery story in the mid-1950s. As a part of our comprehension and learning first hand of the slavery issue, which had taken its worse form in the Southern Delta in the past, we were taken to the courthouse where Emmett Till's trial was held. Yet another personality that we were taught about was Fannie Lou Hamer, who immediately became a favourite amongst the participants, especially amongst the women. This legendary activist was a Mississippi local who fought relentlessly so as to recognise the rights of Black people.

This memorial had been set up in the memory of Fannie Lou Hamer, a legendary activist of the Mississippi Delta who fought relentlessly for the rights of the Black people.

Many cities and towns in the state of Mississippi still bear the signs of the massive historical flood, which had practically destroyed Mississippi in 1927. We were taken to the areas were the levies were suddenly broken by the Mississippi River, washing away houses, shops, people and cattle. Old residents, who were young teenagers during the floods, shared stories with the participants about a pregnant woman giving birth on top of the roof of a washed away house, parents losing a son while trying to save themselves from the gushing river and also about the death of an African American man who was killed by the White police people when the Black man refused to work at the levies after working continuously for two days.

A visit to 'Po Monkey's' was probably the highlight of the workshop. A small sharecropper's home, the house turns into a bar every Thursday, where residents from all over Cleveland and other parts of Mississippi come to dance, enjoy the music and play snooker. ‘Po Monkey's’ is a typical form of entertainment for the residents in the Southern Delta, especially impoverished sections of the African American population and has been going on for generations.

The Blues is a form of music, which was born in Mississippi and much more for the residents. The Blues was an expression of the pain and the joy that the Black people went through in their work places, homes and especially in the cotton fields where they were made to pick cotton for 15-20 hours a day.

Mississippi is said to be the poorest state in the United States of America. However, the state speaks of rich culture and history, which showcases the lives of people who suffered and were oppressed on the basis of race. In many ways, the state speaks of tales belonging to the oppressed, belonging to people all over the world and different times.

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