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Delta Center

Delta Center, MDNHA promote Mississippi Delta tourism at Chicago Blues Festival

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Delta Center/MDNHA team members (left to right) Sarah Hicks, Dr. Rolando Herts, Lee Aylward, Shelia Winters, and Keith Johnson at Visit Mississippi’s Juke Joint Tent, Chicago Blues Festival.

The Delta Center at Delta State and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area partnered with Visit Mississippi to promote cultural heritage tourism to the region and state at the 2018 Chicago Blues Festival. Team members Dr. Rolando Herts, Lee Aylward, Shelia Winters, and Sarah Hicks worked with volunteers from Visit Mississippi and other state tourism and arts organizations to share Mississippi’s rich cultural assets.

The team distributed 6,000 tourism information bags to Blues enthusiasts that packed the Visit Mississippi Juke Joint Tent to hear a variety of performers including Eddie Cotton, Jr., Ms. Jody, and International Blues Challenge winners Keeshea Pratt and Mr. Sipp.

“By participating in the Chicago Blues Festival with Visit Mississippi, our team had a unique opportunity to generate interest in the International Conference on the Blues at Delta State, as well as other events and attractions here in the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area,” said Dr. Herts, director of The Delta Center.

The team interacted with travelers from across the United States and from countries around the world including Thailand, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Colombia, England, Canada, and several others.

Former participants in The Delta Center’s NEH Most Southern Place on Earth Institute who live in the Chicagoland area also stopped by the Visit Mississippi Juke Joint Tent to say hello.

Dr. Rolando Herts and Lee Aylward with NEH Most Southern Place on Earth Institute alums Nan Cohen Stein (middle left) and Michael Ellery (far right).

“It was great seeing our NEH scholars,” said Aylward, program associate for education and community outreach. “They are great about staying connected to The Delta Center and this was a wonderful opportunity for us to connect with them where they live and work.”

“People were standing in the rain to listen to the Delta Blues,” said Delta State graduate student Keith Johnson, who works in The Delta Center and performed at the event. The team also promoted Johnson’s involvement in the upcoming International Conference on the Blues. Johnson is the great nephew of Muddy Waters, whose life, work, and family will be honored at the conference.

“I kept hearing that the Mississippi booth is a favorite booth at the festival, and so many people said that they plan to travel to the Mississippi Delta and to the conference now because of the information that we were able to share with them,” said Hicks, MDNHA program manager.

Delta Center team members Shelia Winters and Sarah Hicks distributing information about the International Conference on the Blues and other MDNHA events and attractions.

The Fifth International Conference for the Blues is scheduled for Sunday, September 30 – Tuesday, October 2 at Delta State. For more information, visit www.internationaldeltabluesproject.com/conference/.

The mission of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a cultural heritage partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. It includes 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington and Yazoo. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at www.msdeltaheritage.com.

Delta Center hosts ninth year of NEH Most Southern Place on Earth

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June 2018 NEH Most Southern Institute participants gather with Delta Center staff members Dr. Rolando Herts and Lee Aylward at the Martin and Sue King Railroad Museum, Cleveland, Mississippi (Photo credit: Mike Fagans/Lawton Ives/Jake Sheridan)

The Delta Center’s Most Southern Place on Earth Institute began its ninth year this week with an opening reception at the Martin and Sue King Railroad Museum in downtown Cleveland on Sunday evening.

The Most Southern Institute attracts 36 K-12 educators from across the United States. Participants will spend a week in the Delta immersed in the music, history, and culture of the region, interacting directly with Delta people and places. The institute is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Toni Dringman, a high school American history teacher from the Kansas City metro area, was so excited to be participating that she donated a guitar to The Delta Center made by her husband.

NEH Most Southern Institute participant Toni Dringman (center) from Kansas donating a guitar made by her husband to The Delta Center.

“To be here in the Mississippi Delta is phenomenal,” said Dringman. “As a college student at University of Missouri – Kansas City, I took several African American studies courses. My students don’t know as much as they should about African American history. The opportunity to be here in the Delta meeting people who lived that history and being in the places where major events happened means the world to me. My husband and I are both music fans, so the guitar is a way for us to thank The Delta Center for offering this educational program.”

During this week, participants will travel around the Delta experiencing historically and culturally significant people and places in the region. Landmarks they will visit include the Chinese Cemetery in Greenville, Dockery Farms in Sunflower County, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, and the Emmett Till INTREPID Center in Glendora.

Participants also will have unique opportunities to experience historic cultural events happening in the Mississippi Delta this week.

On Wednesday, they will attend a reading of the civil rights play “Beautiful Agitators” at GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi. Written and performed by Mississippi Delta residents, the play explores the civil rights activism of Vera Mae Pigee, a Clarksdale-based beauty shop owner who worked with youth to register thousands of African Americans to vote. The event is free and open to the public through support from Mississippi Humanities Council, Mississippi Today, The Delta Center, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, and Coahoma Collective.

NEH Most Southern Institute participants walk to the Mississippi River at the historic Flood of 1927 levee break site.

On Thursday, participants also will attend a special, one-time re-dedication ceremony for the Emmett Till river marker. The marker made national news last year when it was vandalized by bullets. Wheeler Parker, Emmett Till’s cousin, will give remarks along with Dr. Timla Washington of Congressman Bennie Thompson’s office. The event is co-sponsored by the Emmett Till Interpretive Center and The Delta Center.

The Most Southern Institute 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 school communities, sharing stories and lessons from the Delta with students, colleagues, family and friends, both nationally and globally.

Learn more about the Delta Center’s Most Southern Institute at http://deltacenterdsu.com/mostsouthern.

The mission of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshops.

Delta Center, MDNHA and statewide partners present civil rights play at GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi

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FREE PUBLIC EVENT

WHAT: Beautiful Agitators
Written by Jessica James, Nick Houston, Aallyah Wright and Charles Coleman
Directed by Jennifer Welch

Headquartered at her beauty shop on Ashton Street in downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi, Vera Mae Pigee played a crucial role during the civil rights movement in the Delta. While her name isn’t figured as prominently in history books as other local luminaries, Pigee was an instrumental figure in the fight for equality in Mississippi: from her efforts organizing direct action with young people to registering thousands of African Americans to vote.
This summer, Pigee’s story will meet the stage as part of StoryWorks: “Beautiful Agitators.”

WHERE: GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi
Sanders Soundstage
800 West Sunflower Road
Cleveland, MS 38732

WHEN: Wednesday June 20 at 6:30 p.m.
Wednesday July 11 at 6:30 p.m.

TICKETS:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/storyworks-beautiful-agitators-tickets-36262130007

Based on interviews, research and reporting by young journalists in Clarksdale, “Beautiful Agitators” is an original play that will explore the history of Pigee’s activism and the legacy that her work left behind.

Join us for two public staged readings at the GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi in Cleveland, MS, on Wednesday, June 20 and Wednesday, July 11. Each performance will be followed by a conversation that will bridge the work of Pigee and other civil rights leaders in the Delta to the nature of local civic engagement today. The show is free and open to the public, but space is limited.

“Beautiful Agitators” is presented in collaboration with Mississippi Today, Mississippi Humanities Council, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, and Coahoma Collective.

Mississippi Today is a news and media company with a forward-facing mission of civic engagement and public dialog through service journalism, live events and digital outreach. Our newsroom is dedicated to providing Mississippians with reporting that inspires active interest in their state and equips them to engage in community life.

Mississippi Humanities Council is a private nonprofit corporation funded by Congress through the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide public programs in traditional liberal arts disciplines to serve nonprofit groups in Mississippi. MHC creates opportunities for Mississippians to learn about themselves and the larger world and enriches communities through civil conversations about our history and culture.

Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a cultural heritage partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. Designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the Congressional legislation, the MDNHA serves 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta.

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University promotes greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement.

StoryWorks is a documentary theater project created by Jennifer Welch. Now in its fourth season of performances, commissions playwrights to create immediate artistic responses to original investigative stories and the issues at their core.

Coahoma Collective is on a mission to catalyze arts-driven, community-inclusive revitalization in downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Delta Center, MDNHA host NPS civil rights open house at Delta State

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Community members and national stakeholders listen as Dr. Timla Washington reads Congressman Bennie Thompson’s letter during the NPS civil rights open house at Delta State.

 

The Delta Center and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently hosted an open house session for the National Park Service’s Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study. One of five open house sessions held throughout the state – including another Delta region open house at Tallahatchie County Courthouse – the meeting provided a space for Mississippi Delta residents to share information about significant civil rights landmarks, people, and events in their communities.

NPS has encouraged those who were not able to attend the open house sessions to register their comments on the resource study website at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/. The Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study is listed with the Southeast Regional Office and a review ending date of June 1, 2018. According to the website, all public comments are due by that date.

“As Congressman Bennie Thompson has stated, the National Park Service has a wonderful opportunity to preserve and honor the history of civil rights and the struggle for freedom here in Mississippi,” said Keilah Spann, NPS Southeast Regional Office cultural resources historian. “We can accomplish this in part by connecting with the communities and the people here. So much of the history of the civil rights movement is still within the people who were active in it and are living. We have a unique opportunity yet a limited window of time to capture and preserve this history.”

Of the approximately 40 attendees at the Delta State open house, several were community and civil rights leaders including:
– Mr. Charles McLaurin of Indianola who worked with Fannie Lou Hamer;
– Ms. Jessie Williams, a retired history and American government educator who initiated the integration of Shaw High School as its first African American teacher;
– Dr. Matthew Holden, a Mound Bayou native and retired political science professor researching the life of Mound Bayou founder Isaiah T. Montgomery; and
– Senator David Jordan of Greenwood who attended the Emmett Till trial at Tallahatchie County Courthouse in 1955.

Bolivar County Administrator Will Hooker speaking about local civil rights sites and leaders such as Amzie Moore and Isaiah T. Montgomery.

“We are pleased that the National Park Service resource study team asked to host their first civil rights open house session at Delta State,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and executive director of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “This conversation started during the team’s initial visit to the Mississippi Delta in February through Mississippi Department of Archives and History. To have two civil rights open house sessions here in our region sends a strong message that the Mississippi Delta is a national civil rights heritage treasure. This is an historic opportunity for residents and entire communities to proudly share their civil rights stories.”

Later that day, a second NPS open house session also was held at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner. The session was hosted by the Emmett Till Interpretive Center.

“The National Park Service study helps to solidify the importance of the many Civil Rights Movement sites in Mississippi,” said Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. “We look forward to working with them, and we were proud to host them in Sumner where over fifty community members came out to voice their opinions.”

In 2017, U.S. Congress passed a law directing NPS to conduct a special resource study of Mississippi’s nationally significant civil rights sites. Initial Mississippi Delta sites include key landmarks of the Emmett Till murder such as Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, MS, and Bryant’s Grocery Store in Money, MS.

The open house sessions are part of NPS’ efforts to gather information about additional civil rights sites in the Mississippi Delta and throughout the state. They will report their findings to Congress when the study has been completed.

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://deltacenterdsu.com/.

Community members speaking with Ben West, NPS Southeast regional chief for planning, to propose additional Mississippi civil rights sites for the NPS study.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a cultural heritage partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. It includes 18 counties that contain land located in the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi Delta: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, DeSoto, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, Washington and Yazoo. The MDNHA was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the congressional legislation. More information about the MDNHA, including the complete approved management plan, is available at www.msdeltaheritage.com.

National Park Service considers Mississippi Civil Rights sites for park designation, seeks public input

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ATLANTA – The National Park Service (NPS) recently announced it has begun to examine key civil rights sites in Mississippi for possible designation as a national park area and invites the public to weigh-in at the start of the project that could run two years.

“Rigorous research and public opinion help our nation’s leaders determine whether a resource of national significance should be added to the National Park System,” said Ben West, southeast regional chief for planning and compliance with the National Park Service. “The public’s voice is critical to this process. We welcome widespread participation as the National Park Service considers Mississippi-based civil rights sites and stories that helped shape our nation’s history.”

ABOUT THE STUDY

In 2017, the U.S. Congress passed a law directing NPS to conduct a special resource study of Mississippi’s nationally significant civil rights sites, such as:

The home in Jackson where civil rights activist Medgar Evers resided with his wife and was killed in 1963.
Sites in the Mississippi Delta related to the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till on August 28, 1955, including Bryant’s store and Tallahatchie County Courthouse.
The Old Neshoba County jail in Philadelphia, Miss., where civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were held for a speeding violation prior to being released and murdered by a mob for registering black voters in 1964. The Reverends Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph David Abernathy Sr. included the jail in a heralded voter registration march two years later.
The Biloxi office of Dr. Gilbert Mason Sr. who was a principal organizer of “wade-ins” beginning in 1959 to desegregate Biloxi’s public beaches. He also helped organize voter registration drives and led other civil rights initiatives for 33 years.

Other related sites in the state not specifically listed in the legislation may be identified and added to the list of potential study locations.

The purpose of this special resource study is to gather information about the sites through historical research and public input and evaluate the sites’ potential for inclusion into the NPS system. The findings – which are reported to Congress through the U.S. Secretary of the Interior – will center on the sites’ national significance, suitability, feasibility and need for direct NPS management. Special resource studies can take place over a two-year period, depending on the findings.

PUBLIC INPUT OPPORTUNITIES
The NPS is providing multiple opportunities for public comment and participation during the initial phase of the special resource study to better assess public interest and support.

NPS will hold six Open House forums across Mississippi from May 7 to 10.
The NPS study team will explain the special resource study process at the forums, answer questions and gather important information and ideas from the public concerning the study. All Open House forums are free and open to the public.

Open Houses are scheduled for:

Monday, May 7, 2018, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
The Delta Center for Culture and Learning / Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area
Delta State University
Jacob Conference Center, Ewing Hall
Highway 8 West
Cleveland, Mississippi 38733

Monday, May 7, 2018, 5 – 7 p.m.
Tallahatchie County Courthouse and Emmett Till Interpretive Center
120 North Court Street
Sumner, Mississippi 38957

Tuesday, May 8, 2018, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Two Mississippi Museums Auditorium
222 North Street
Jackson, Mississippi 39201

Tuesday, May 8, 2018, 5 – 7 p.m.
Medgar Evers Library
4215 Medgar Evers Blvd
Jackson, Mississippi 39213

Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 5 – 7 p.m.
The Depot
256 West Beacon Street
Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350

Thursday, May 10, 2018, 5 – 7 p.m.
Biloxi Visitor Center
1050 Beach Boulevard
Biloxi, Mississippi 39201

Written comments are requested by June 1, 2018 and may be submitted during the Open House forums, online at parkplanning.nps.gov/MSCR_SRS or through postal mail to:

Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study
Attn: Justin Henderson
National Park Service- Denver Service Center
12795 W. Alameda Parkway
Lakewood, CO 80228

For further information, contact NPS project manager Justin Henderson at 303-969-2540 or Ben West at 404-507-5700.

BACKGROUND

Many historians identify the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the exoneration of his killers as one of the defining moments of the modern civil rights movement in America. This period culminated in Mississippi with the 1964 Freedom Summer project to register African American voters and seat Freedom Party delegates at the Democratic National Convention. That year was also marked by the murders of Mississippi Freedom Summer volunteers Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. During the decade in between, the struggle for civil rights and equality in deeply segregated Mississippi was shaped by people who risked their lives and faced adversity in their quest for freedom.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study explores the most significant people and places representing civil rights history in Mississippi. Information about these sites, the special resource study process, project status updates and more are available at parkplanning.nps.gov/MSCR_SRS.