Before big railroad companies forged the length of the interior of the Mississippi Delta, a group of sojourners found themselves in the midst of this alluvial plain, enticed by the stories and promises of “Gold Mountain.”
By 1870, approximately 400 Chinese laborers landed in New Orleans with a small core of that number finding their way to the upper Mississippi Delta to work in agriculture. Life was not easy for these first immigrants, but they worked hard and found that they could and would make the Delta “home.”
Learn more about the legacy of Chinese immigration in the Delta by attending Delta Chinese: Reflections & Reunion at Delta State University and the city of Cleveland’s Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum this Friday and Saturday.
A series of lectures and events will be held at the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum at the Charles W. Capps, Jr. Archives and Museum on campus and the train museum. Scheduled speakers include Susie Jeu Tonymon, Ted Gong, Martin Gold, Gwen Gong, Adrienne Berard and John Jung.
Topics of interest will include a family’s journey from southern China to southern Arkansas, the 1882 Chinese exclusion laws, Mississippi Chinese WWII veterans, the Gong Lum vs. Rice civil rights case and an author’s perspective of the Mississippi Delta Chinese.
“This reunion is a celebration of Chinese Americans who have their roots in the Mississippi Delta,” said Raymond Wong, president of the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum board. “Unlike Chinese Americans from (other) parts of the United States, the Chinese from Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas share a unique bond because of their Southern heritage and upbringing.
“There is a connectivity and camaraderie even if you have left the South. Everyone is invited to come join in the fun and reunion.”
Friday’s first lecture will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Jobe Hall and will feature the personal stories of Tonymon, whose family made the journey from Southern China to Southern Arkansas. Tonymon will present her memories “as a child growing up between the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1927 and the depression years of the 1930s, and how we endured the tragedies of both World War II and the Korean War — as we experienced life in the segregated South.”
The second session, beginning at 10:45 a.m., will feature Gold, author of “Forbidden Citizens: Chinese Exclusion and the U.S. Congress: A Legislative History,” and Gong, founder and executive director of the 1882 Project Foundation, who will speak about the legacy of America’s Chinese exclusion laws.
The final lecture session Friday will begin at 1:45 p.m. and feature stories from Delta native, Gwen Gong. Gong is the author of six books and has been the founding and chief editor of the Asian Journal of English Language Teaching, an international journal, for the past 20 years.
Friday’s lecture series will culminate with a ribbon cutting for two new wings of the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, located on the third floor of the Capps Archives. The museum features a full size replica of a Chinese grocery and offers a unique view into the history and daily lives of the Delta’s Chinese residents.
The new additions to the museum will showcase the vital role that the Delta Chinese played in shaping Mississippi’s educational landscape and the heroic efforts of Delta Chinese veterans. A reception will be held at the Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum following the ribbon cutting.
Saturday’s lectures will begin at 10 a.m. at the H.L. Nowell Student Union and feature Jung, author of four books on the Chinese American experience, including a memoir titled “Southern Fried Rice: Life in A Chinese Laundry in the Deep South.” Journalist Adrienne Berard, who is the scholar in residence at Delta State will also be featured. Berard’s current book project on Rosedale’s Gong Lum v. Rice case was awarded the J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award by Harvard University.
Both of Saturday’s lectures are free and open to the public. The museum, including its two new additions, will be open to the public from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday.
To learn more about this event and to register, visit www.deltastate.edu/chineseheritage.
*Special appreciation to Dr. and Mrs. Tony Chan for their financial contribution, which has initiated the Chinese Reunion. This program is financially assisted by the Mississippi Legislature through the Mississippi Department of Archives & History and by the Mississippi Humanities Council. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Mississippi Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mississippi Department of Archives & History or the University of Southern Mississippi.