Mississippi Delta: Wikis

  
  

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The Mississippi Delta is the distinct northwest section of the state of Mississippi that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Technically not a delta but part of an alluvial plain, created by regular flooding over thousands of years, this region is remarkably flat and contains some of the most fertile soil in the world. It includes all or part of the following counties: Washington, DeSoto, Humphreys, Carroll, Issaquena, Panola, Quitman, Bolivar, Coahoma, Leflore, Sunflower, Sharkey, Tunica, Tallahatchie, Holmes, Yazoo, and Warren.

The river delta at the mouth of the Mississippi lies some 300 miles south of this area, and is referred to as the Mississippi River Delta. The two should not be confused, as may happen in some media references or casual conversation.

The shared flood plain of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers

Contents

Music

The Delta is strongly associated with the origins of several genres of popular music, including the Delta blues, jazz, and rock and roll. The music came out of the struggles of lives in which poverty and hardship were ever present for mostly black sharecroppers and tenant farmers.[1][2][3]

Travel

Author David L. Cohn famously located the Mississippi Delta: it "begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg."[4]

Southern Living calls the Mississippi Delta "a back road traveler's paradise," showcasing the region's rich character in its March 2008 piece, "Delta Journal". The story begins:

The springtime sun is as yellow as a daffodil floating in a sea of blue. From high above, it reaches down to warm a vast expanse of smoky-black earth that smells like river. The cotton is flourishing — clear-to-the-horizon fields of it are broken by groves of pecan trees, whispering to each other in a rustle of leaves. And though you can't see Old Man hidden behind the levee, you can feel his presence--the twisting, turning, mighty, muddy presence of the Mississippi River. -Valerie Fraser Luesse

Agriculture and the Delta economy

Plantations

For over two centuries, agriculture has been the mainstay of the Delta economy. Sugar cane and rice were introduced to the region by European settlers from the Caribbean in the 18th century. Sugar and rice production were centered in southern Louisiana, and later in the Arkansas Delta.

Early agriculture also included limited tobacco production in the Natchez area and indigo in the lower Mississippi. What had begun as back-breaking land clearing by yeoman farmers, supported by extensive families, was expanded into a labor-intensive plantation system dependent on the labor of enslaved Native Americans, who were rapidly supplanted in the 18th century by enslaved Africans. Thousands of Africans were captured, sold and transported as slaves from West Africa, with many entering the Mississippi Delta through the slave market at New Orleans. As slavery became institutionalized as a heritable status, Africans and African Americans for generations worked the commodity plantations, which they helped make extremely profitable. African laborers brought critical knowledge and techniques for the cultivation and processing of both rice and indigo.

The invention of the cotton gin in the early 19th century enabled the widespread production of short-staple cotton, which until then had been too labor-intensive to process. By the early 19th century, cotton had become the Delta’s premier crop, for which there was international demand, and would remain so until well after the American Civil War, even in an era of falling cotton prices. Though cotton planters believed that the alluvial soils of the region would always renew, the agricultural boom from the 1830s to the late 1850s caused extensive soil exhaustion and erosion. Lacking agricultural knowledge, planters continued to raise cotton the same way after the Civil War.

Plantations before the war were generally developed on ridges near the rivers, which provided transportation of products to market. At the end of the Civil War, most of the bottomlands behind the ridges were still covered in heavy dense growth of trees, bushes and vines. Most of the acreage of the Delta was uncultivated.

Following the Civil War, 90 percent of the bottomlands in Mississippi were still undeveloped, which led to the state attracting people to its frontier, where their labor in clearing land could be traded to purchase it. Tens of thousands of migrants, both black and white, were drawn to the area. By the end of the century, two-thirds of the independent farmers in the Mississippi Delta were black. The extended low price of cotton had caused many to go deeply into debt, however, and gradually they had to sell off their lands. From 1910-1920, the first and second generations of African Americans after slavery lost their stake in the land and had to resort to sharecropping and tenant farming to survive.[5]

Sharecropping and tenant farming replaced the slave-dependent, labor-intensive plantation system. This labor system inhibited the use of progressive agricultural techniques. In the late 19th century, the clearing and drainage of wetlands, especially in Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel, increased lands available for tenant farming and sharecropping.

Mechanization starting in the 1930s again altered agricultural economics, as thousands of laborers were no longer needed and migrated North in the Great Migration. During the late 20th century, there was an increasing dominance of lower Delta agriculture by families and nonresident corporate entities that held large landholdings. Their operations are heavily mechanized with low labor costs. Such farm entities are capital-intensive, where hundreds and thousands of acres are used to produce market-driven crops such as cotton, sugar, rice, and soybeans.

Mechanization

During the 1920s and 1930s, in the aftermath of the increasing mechanization of Delta farms, displaced whites and African-Americans began to leave the land and move to towns and cities. It was not until the Great Depression years of the 1930s and later that large-scale farm mechanization came to the region. The mechanization of agriculture and the availability of domestic work outside the Delta spurred the migration of Delta residents from the region. Farming was unable to absorb the available labor force and entire families moved together.

From the late 1930s through the 1950s, the Delta experienced an agriculture boom, as wartime needs followed by reconstruction in Europe expanded the demand for the Delta region’s farm products. As the mechanization of agriculture continued, women continued to leave the fields and go into service work, while the men drove tractors and worked on the farms. From the 1960s through the 1990s, thousands of small farms and dwellings in the Delta region were absorbed by large corporate-owned agribusinesses, and the smallest Delta communities have stagnated.

Diversification

Remnants of the region’s agrarian heritage are scattered along the highways and byways of the lower Delta. Larger communities have survived by fostering economic development in education, government, and medicine. Other endeavors such as catfish, poultry, rice, corn, and soybean farming have assumed greater importance. Today, the monetary value of these crops rivals that of cotton production in the lower Delta. Shifts away from the river as a main transportation and trading route to railroads and, more significantly, highways, have left the river cities struggling for new roles and businesses.

In recent years, due to the growth of the automobile industry in the South, many parts suppliers have opened facilities in the Delta (as well as on the Arkansas Delta side of the Mississippi River, another area of high poverty). Moreover, the 1990s legalization of casino gambling in Mississippi has boosted the Delta's economy, particularly in the areas of Tunica and Vicksburg.

A large cultural influence in the region is its history of hunting and fishing. Hunting in the Delta is primarily for game such as whitetail deer, wild turkey, and waterfowl, along with many small game species (squirrel, rabbit, dove, quail, raccoon, etc.) For many years the hunting and fishing have also attracted visitors in the regional tourism economy.

Principal towns

Famous Deltans

Musicians

Others

Festivals

Festivals are important to the Mississippi Delta region, allowing each town or community the opportunity to celebrate their unique heritage. Following is a list of various festivals in the Delta:

March
  • Italian Festival of Mississippi (Cleveland)
April
  • Rivergate Festival (Tunica)
  • World Catfish Festival (Belzoni)
  • Leland Crawfish Festival (Leland)
  • Crosstie Arts & Jazz Festival (Cleveland)
  • Juke Joint Festival (Clarksdale)
  • Riverfest (Vicksburg)
May
  • Deep Delta Festival (Rolling Fork)
  • River to the Rails Festival (Greenwood)
  • Mainstream Arts & Crafts Festival (Greenville)
  • Summerfest (Hollandale)
  • Showfest (Tunica) As of 2010
June
  • B.B. King Homecoming Festival (Indianola)
  • Highway 61 Blues Festival (Leland)
  • Delta Jubilee (Clarksdale)
July
  • First Friday Jazz Festival (Greenville)
August
  • Sunflower River Blues Festival (Clarksdale)
September
  • Delta Air and Balloon Festival (Greenville)
  • Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival
  • Charleston Day Reunion (Charleston)
October
  • Great Delta Bear Affair [4]
  • Octoberfest (Cleveland)
November
  • Electroacoustic Juke Joint (Cleveland) [5]
December
  • Roy Martin Delta Band Festival (Greenwood)

Education

Universities

Community colleges

Media and publishing

Newspapers, magazines and journals

  • Belzoni Banner (published weekly) ([11])
  • Delta Magazine (published bi-monthly) ([12])
  • Delta Business Journal (published monthly) ([13])
  • Clarksdale Press Register (published daily) ([14])
  • Cleveland Bolivar Commercial (published daily) ([15])
  • Greenville Delta Democrat Times (published daily) ([16])
  • Greenwood Commonwealth (published daily) ([17])
  • The Tunica Times (published weekly) ([18])

Television

  • WABG (Greenwood)
  • WXVT (Greenville)

The Northern Delta is served by Memphis TV stations.

Transportation

Air transportation

  • Tunica Municipal Airport (Tunica) ([19])
  • Mid Delta Regional Airport (Greenville)
  • Greenwood-Leflore Airport (Greenwood)
  • Cleveland Municipal Airport (Cleveland)
  • Indianola Municipal Airport (Indianola)
  • Yazoo County Airport (Yazoo City)
  • Fletcher Field Airport (Clarksdale)

Highways

Appearance in culture

See also

References

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ Cohn, David L. (1948). Where I Was Born and Raised. New York: Houghton Mifflin, p. 12.
  5. ^ John C. Willis, Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000

Further reading

  • Cobb, James C. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992) excerpt and text search; also online edition
  • Cosby, A.G. et al. A Social and Economic Portrait of the Mississippi Delta (1992) online
  • Currie, James T. Enclave: Vicksburg and Her Plantations, 1863-1870 (1980) excerpt and text search
  • Gardner, Justin, and Nolan, Tom. "An Agricultural Economist's Perspective on the Mississippi Delta," Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies Aug 2009, Vol. 40 Issue 2, pp 80-89,
  • Helferich, Gerry. High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta (2007) excerpt and text search, growing cotton in 21st century
  • Morris, Christopher. Becoming Southern: The Evolution of a Way of Life, Warren County and Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1770–1860 (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Nelson, Lawrence J. "Welfare Capitalism on a Mississippi Plantation in the Great Depression." Journal of Southern History 50 (May 1984): 225–50. in JSTOR
  • Owens, Harry P. Steamboats and the Cotton Economy: River Trade in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta (1990). excerpt and text search
  • Percy, William Alexander. Lanterns on the Levee; Recollections of a planter's son (1941) 347 pages excerpt and text search
  • Willis, John C. Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta After the Civil War (2000)
  • Woodruff, Nan Elizabeth. American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta (2003) excerpt and text search
  • "Nile of the New World", John Gunther, National Park Service

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Mississippi Delta is a region in western Mississippi, along the river.

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