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Delta Center

Congressman Bennie Thompson (left to right), Mayersville mayor Linda Short, Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and Dr. Leslie McLemore, chair of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force, stand in front of the newly unveiled Unita Blackwell marker.

Unita Blackwell marker added to Mississippi Freedom Trail

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The Issaquena County town of Mayersville recently honored one of it’s bravest citizens, former mayor Unita Blackwell, with a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker dedicated to her.

The marker was unveiled during a ceremony that attracted a gathering of local residents, as well as regional, statewide, and national leaders at the Mayersville Multi Purpose Building. Blackwell was the first female African-American elected mayor in Mississippi.

In addition to serving as mayor for 27 years, Blackwell was active in the Civil Rights Movement, Head Start and the Democratic Party for nearly five decades. In 1993, she was awarded a Genius Grant as a MacArthur Fellow. Since 1973, she has been a part of 16 diplomatic missions to China.

JoAnne Prichard Morris shares thoughts about Unita Blackwell.

JoAnne Prichard Morris shares thoughts about Unita Blackwell.

“The notion is that somebody from very, very humble beginnings cannot only rise to be the mayor of her community, but to take delegations all over the world as a goodwill ambassador, to work for childcare, work for better education, is a statement that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re going,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson, U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District.

Blackwell was born in Lula, Mississippi in 1933. Her parents Virda Mae and Willie Brown were sharecroppers. She married Jeremiah Blackwell in 1958, and in 1960, they moved into a shotgun house in Mayersville inherited from Jeremiah’s grandmother. It was here that Blackwell became involved in politics, civil rights and a life of building a stronger community for all.

“She just kept on going and learning and experiencing new things,” said JoAnne Prichard Morris, who assisted Blackwell in writing her autobiography “Barefootin’: Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom.” “She was quite simply the most courageous, most creative, most inspiring, smartest, funniest person I’ve ever known.”

The Mississippi Freedom Trail was created in 2011 to commemorate the people and places in the state that played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement. The first Freedom Trail markers were unveiled in conjunction with the Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation’s 2011 reunion activities for the 1961 Freedom Riders. The Blackwell marker is the 22nd placed in the state, and was supported in part by partnership development funds from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in conjunction with support from Visit Mississippi, the Town of Mayersville and Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership.

“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is about telling significant stories here in our region, and the story of Unita Blackwell truly is a significant story,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, Director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, the management entity for the MDNHA. “The fact that the MDNHA could support this marker being installed here for ages to come so that the people of Mayersville – particularly the youth – can learn about her story and her legacy, truly is a great asset to the community and to our region.”

An attendee looks at a brochure illustrating the locations of the thirty-plus Freedom Trail markers.

An attendee looks at a brochure illustrating the locations of more than 30 Freedom Trail markers.

The MDNHA 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.

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 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/.

Dr. Rolando Herts (right) presented at the Jus' Blues Music Foundation's conference with CEO and founder Charles Mitchell (center) and GRAMMY-nominated blues legend Bobby Rush.

Delta Center presents at Jus’ Blues conference for second year

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Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State, recently presented at the “Blues Got A Soul” Technology Conference sponsored by the Jus’ Blues Music Foundation.

This is the tenth year the conference has been held, and this is the second year that Herts has represented The Delta Center at the conference.

The event brought industry professionals and aficionados together to discuss cultural heritage preservation and legal issues pertaining to blues music. The conference was held at Horseshoe Casino’s Bluesville event venue in Tunica, Mississippi.

Herts’ presentation focused on blues heritage partnerships in the Mississippi Delta led by The Delta Center. He spoke about the International Delta Blues Project, including the upcoming International Conference on the Blues, a public screening of the film “Take Me To The River” at GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, and Delta State’s new International Blues Scholars Program, an online blues studies certificate.

The conference also featured GRAMMY-nominated blues legend Bobby Rush and Atlanta based entertainment attorney Jonathan Mason. The event was moderated by Charles Mitchell, CEO and founder of the Jus’ Blues Music Foundation.

Bobby Rush speaks to conference attendees before performing.

Bobby Rush speaks to conference attendees before performing.

“For a second year, I invited Dr. Herts to present at the conference,” said Mitchell. “The Delta Center and Delta State University are continuing to provide great leadership in blues education and awareness of the importance of blues culture. We were excited to learn more about the good work that these organizations are doing here in the Mississippi Delta to preserve blues traditions.”

The conference was held in conjunction with the 16th annual Jus’ Blues Music Awards. The awards honored various music professionals who have contributed much of their lives to advancing and promoting blues music and culture.

This year’s honorees included Sly Johnson, Ruby Andrews, Zac Harmon, Queen Ann Hines, King Edward, Chick Rodgers, Billy Branch, Big Bill Morganfield, Mud Morganfield, Eddie Cotton, Jr., and Clarksdale native L.C. Cooke, brother of soul legend, Sam Cooke. In addition, a special presentation was made to R&B legend Millie Jackson, the inaugural Millie Jackson Award.

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 National Endowment for the Humanities “Most Southern Place on Earth” workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltacenterdsu.com.

The Delta Center's "Most Southern" workshop participants at the Fannie Lou Hamer memorial garden in Ruleville. The workshop will be presented again in June and July 2017. through generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities."

The Delta Center’s NEH “Most Southern” workshop funded for eighth year

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In its 50th anniversary year, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced $79 million in grants for 290 humanities projects and programs across the United States. The grants will be awarded in 14 humanities fields or areas, and also include $42.8 million in annual operating support for the national network of state and local humanities councils.

The grants will support a wide range of efforts in the humanities, with institutions, scholars and humanities organizations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories receiving NEH support. Complete state-by-state listings of grants are available through the NEH website.

“NEH grants help bring humanities experiences to Americans across the country,” said chairman William D. Adams. “Our funding supports museums, libraries and cultural institutions, and the local state councils that create and sustain humanities programs in their communities. Through films, original research and new intellectual insights, our grants strengthen the nation’s cultural fabric and identity.”

For the eighth year, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University has been awarded a NEH grant for “The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the Mississippi Delta” workshop. The workshop is one of several Landmarks of American History and Culture: Workshops for School Teachers that NEH funds across the country. The purpose of this grant category is to support a series of one-week workshops for K-12 educators that address central themes and topics in American history, government, literature, art history and other humanities fields related to historic landmarks.

NEH workshop participants experiencing the Delta's rich fertile soil.

NEH workshop participants experiencing the Delta’s rich fertile soil.

“We are pleased that the National Endowment for the Humanities once again is funding the ‘Most Southern Place on Earth’ workshops,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and co-director of the workshop. “This is one of the longest running NEH Landmarks workshops. We are excited to have the opportunity to offer it once again to K-12 educators who have a passion for learning and teaching about the rich culture and history of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, identified by the National Park Service as ‘the cradle of American culture.'”

Over the years, the NEH “Most Southern” workshops have built a dedicated network of over 500 alumni scholars who serve as educational and cultural ambassadors for the MDNHA and for Delta State University. The workshops use an experiential learning approach, engaging participants directly with historically and culturally significant people and places in the MDNHA.

Workshop participants take what they have learned back to their schools and communities, sharing stories and lessons from the MDNHA with students, colleagues, family and friends, nationally and globally. Many past participants have made return visits to the region, bringing students, colleagues, family and friends with them, which has broadened the “Most Southern” workshops’ educational and economic impact.

“Participants from as far away as Alaska, California and New Hampshire remain connected to The Delta Center, Delta State and the Delta region because of this workshop,” said Lee Alyward, program associate for education and community outreach at The Delta Center and workshop co-director. “In fact, several of them completed the International Blues Scholars Program this summer, our online Blues Studies certificate. We look forward to working with another group of educators in summer 2017 who are passionate about the Delta.”

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 MDNHA and is the home of the NEH Most Southern Place on Earth workshop and the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit http://www.deltacenterdsu.com.

The MDNHA is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. 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 http://www.msdeltaheritage.com.

Pictured (left to right): Chris Masingill of Delta Regional Authority, Lane Riley of Shaw, Shellie Michael of Jackson, Dr. Rolando Herts of Delta State University, Joshua Bower of Jackson, Amanda Allen of Clarksdale, Tracy Ausberry of Clarksdale, Jessie Whitley of Greenville, and Mike Marshall of Delta Regional Authority.

Delta Leadership Institute completes 2015-16 Executive Academy

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Fifty community leaders have successfully completed the year-long Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy, a program of the Delta Regional Authority. The Executive Academy is a training program that brings together business and community leaders from each of the eight states of the Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt regions for a collaborative leadership development experience, emphasizing regional approaches to growing local economies and creating opportunities for the people of the Delta region.

Each graduate completed leadership development coursework and field studies in the year-long program that included five sessions in Delta communities and one session in Washington, D.C.

Seven DLI fellows, nominated by Governor Phil Bryant and DRA federal co-chairman Chris Masingill, represented Mississippi this year:

– Amanda Allen of Delta Regional Authority, Clarksdale
– Tracy Ausberry of Delta Regional Authority, Clarksdale
– Joshua Bower of Mississippi Community College Board, Jackson
– Dr. Rolando Herts of Delta State University, Cleveland
– Shellie Michael of Mississippi Minority Business Alliance, Jackson
– Lane Riley of Delta Hands for Hope, Shaw
– Jessie Whitley of the City of Greenville
– Jessie Whitley of Greenville001

“For our communities to grow and support strong economies that create opportunities for Delta residents, we need local leaders that understand the local and regional challenges that we face, as well as the networks and resources that can help identify solutions and address these challenges,” Masingill said. “The Delta Leadership Institute’s dynamic programming and ever-growing alumni network are helping to meet this need and empower our region’s leaders to make the Delta a better place to live and work.”

In addition to the program certificate, participants graduate with an industry-recognized certification in Crucial Conversations. Present for the ceremony were Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson Masingill, alternate federal co-chairman Mike Marshall, and Alice Perry, Gov. Bryant’s senior policy advisor and designee to the DRA board.

Gov. Bryant said, “I am grateful to DRA for cultivating leadership that will strengthen Mississippi, and I thank the graduates for taking an active role in improving their communities. Being from the Delta, I appreciate the importance of leadership for this region of our state.”

The DRA is a federal-state partnership created by Congress in 2000 to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives through strategic investments in economic development in 252 counties and parishes across eight states. Through the Rural Communities Advancement Program, the DRA has provided leadership development to more than 400 community leaders over 10 years and strengthened regional collaboration with its Delta Leadership Institute.

Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Chair of the Board of Directors, and Dr. Rolando Herts, Director, (standing, center) with representatives from organizations awarded cultural heritage development grants from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

MDNHA awards $160,000 in regional grants

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The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently announced nearly $160,000 in grants for eleven cultural heritage development projects in the Mississippi Delta.

The projects represent the diversity of the region’s rich cultural heritage including Native and African American history, music, art, storytelling, the Delta Chinese, and the Mississippi River.

“The grants committee was impressed with the projects proposed through the application process,” said Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Chair of the MDNHA Board of Directors. “Organizations and agencies are doing outstanding community service, and the MDNHA is pleased to provide funding to support this work.”

“The MDNHA is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service designed to engage and empower organizations and individuals to promote the cultural heritage of the region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, which serves as the management entity for the MDNHA. “The successful completion of this first round of grants represents a major milestone as the MDNHA continues to do this work throughout the Mississippi Delta.”

This is the first round of grants awarded by the MDNHA. In January of this year, the MDNHA launched the new grants program and provided a series of workshops throughout the region to educate and inform the people of the Mississippi Delta on how to apply. Workshops were held at Clarksdale/Coahoma County Tourism, Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Sharkey-Issaquena County Library in Rolling Fork, The Capps Center in Indianola, and Desoto County Tourism in Southaven.

Proposals received were reviewed by a grants committee comprised of members of the MDNHA Board of Directors. The eleven organizations and projects that were awarded MDNHA grants represent six of the 18 counties served by the MDNHA including Bolivar, Coahoma, DeSoto, Leflore, Sharkey, and Warren. The grant recipients and funded projects are as follows:

ArtPlace Mississippi, Greenwood, MS
Delta Wild: Connecting people to the Mississippi Delta’s natural habitat and resources

DeSoto Foundation, Hernando, MS
First Contact Historical Trail: Native Americans’ first encounter with Europeans in the Mississippi Delta

Cleveland Music Foundation, Cleveland, MS
Exploring a Culture of Creativity: Engaging students in telling local stories through music at Grammy Museum Mississippi

Lower Mississippi River Foundation, Clarksdale, MS
Between the Levees: Telling the story of the Mississippi River batture

Bologna Performing Arts Center, Cleveland, MS
Public performance of “Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till”

Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland, MS
Cleveland Chamber/Tourism office relocation and signage plan

Delta State University Archives and Museums, Cleveland, MS
Amzie Moore House Museum and MS Delta Chinese Heritage Museum docent program

Rolling Fork Visitors Center and Museum, Rolling Fork, MS
Multimedia interpretive display expansion and exhibit preservation

Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, Vicksburg, MS
1868 St. Francis Xavier Convent restoration

Delta Hands for Hope, Shaw, MS
Photography and Oral History Program for high school students

Rosedale Freedom Project, Rosedale, MS
Unsung Voices of Bolivar County: civil rights stories past and present collected by high school students

The MDNHA recently held a second grant competition round with proposals due on July 5. Proposals are under review currently. The MDNHA expects to announce grant awardees for the second round in fall 2016.

“The grant program is a critical part of the MDNHA’s Management Plan. We look forward to the program continuing in the future and look forward to receiving more proposals from organizations that are serving the Mississippi Delta region,” said Herts.

The MDNHA 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.

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 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/.