Mississippi Delta

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Think of the Mississippi Delta. Maybe you imagine cotton fields, sharecroppers and blues music.

It’s been all that. But for more than a century, the Delta has also been a magnet for immigrants. I was intrigued to learn about one immigrant group in particular: the Delta Chinese.

We went there and found family histories that are deeply entwined in the community. 

The Legacy Of The Mississippi Delta Chinese

Photos by Elissa Nadworny

“In the Delta, most of the world seemed sky… The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragonfly. It seemed strummed, as though it were an instrument and something had touched it.” 
–Eudora Welty, Delta Wedding The next best thing to experiencing Mississippi first-hand, as we’re doing now, is absorbing it through the state’s legendary writers. I’m having a great time working my way through this stack for this week’s trip. –Melissa

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We hadn’t planned to visit William Faulkner’s home on our visit to Mississippi. We didn’t think we had enough time. But really, the temptation was too great: It seemed sacrilegious to leave Oxford without making even a brief pilgrimage.

So before we headed out to the Mississippi Delta, we stopped by Rowan Oak, the stately antebellum mansion Faulkner bought for $6,000 in 1930. He had just published The Sound and the Fury.

Producer Elissa Nadworny and I lingered outside, looking way up at the towering cedar trees that line the walkway to the pillared entrance. We were skulking around when the front door burst open and curator William Griffith spotted us. “Well, c'mon in!” he called. And in we went.

William Faulkner’s Home Illustrates His Impact On The South

Photos: Elissa Nadworny/NPR

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Of all the American accents, I will always be partial to a Southern drawl. I think there’s beauty in the pace and the lilt and every story sounds like a song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that drawl from any Asians to the degree that these Chinese women speak in Mississippi Delta English. I do sorta wish we could hear them speaking Chinese to see if the accent holds over, but even without that, this is still a fascinating video.

And I just want to point out how important Asian representation is in the media. Part of the reason so many Americans are always othering the Asians they see is because there aren’t enough in pop culture. These Chinese folks in Mississippi have been there for their entire lives, and some of them went to school before the end of segregation. They’re clearly American – you can hear it in their voice if nothing else. Yet, they’re still asked “How long have you been here?” or “Where are you from?” or “Where did you learn English?”

The default for American is still white. Everything else is Other. But Asians are still the others of the Other, forever seen as immigrants in a country that used to pride itself on being a melting pot.

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The Untold Story Of America’s Southern Chinese

There’s a rather unknown community of Chinese-Americans who’ve lived in the Mississippi Delta for more than a hundred years. They played an important role in the segregated South in the middle of the 20th century. Join us as we get a taste of Southern Chinese food and learn about the unique history of the Delta Chinese. 

Watch: 

Part 1: How Chop Suey Saved San Francisco’s Chinatown https://youtu.be/DvXJoCiP6hM Watch 

Part 3: Inside The Chinese Food Mecca Of Los Angeles https://youtu.be/cNRYdW_hr5s 

Resources: 

“The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White” by James W. Loewen. 

“Southern Fried Rice: Life in a Chinese Laundry in the Deep South” by John Jung. 

“Chopsticks in the Land of Cotton: Lives of Mississippi Delta Chinese Grocers” by John Jung. 

“Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South” by Adrienne Berard.

Mississippi John Hurt - Talking Casey Jones 

He recorded two different versions of this song, one in his familiar ragtime-blues style, and this delta/slide style “talking” version. I love this one for many reasons, not least because he imparts some of the oral history of the legendary railroad engineer Casey Jones throughout the song. This early Casey Jones song complex, recorded by a wide spectrum of prewar musicians, is the basis for the Grateful Dead’s classic song of the same title. Casey Jones was an actual person, noted for having been so dedicated to the punctuality of his train’s station arrivals that it literally killed him. His story became a symbolic one in the American folk tale and song traditions, especially in the south.

  • Edgar: Racoons are incredible
  • Edgar: There are so many types of raccoons. So much variety. A buffet of good round boys. Mississippi delta raccoons are the good boys of my heart. You should really look up how many types of raccoons there are. One of them will speak to your heart.
  • Edgar: When they stand, amazing, bravo. The balance, incredible. Total power stance. Amazing for running away with cat food. No chance of improvement on this flawless feature.
  • Edgar: They're sensational. They're outstanding. Nothing can compare. These boys are just too good. I hope they know I love them. I cherish them. They are my moon and stars. I pray they’re aware of my devotion to their beautiful faces and small whiskers. Nature entered a never-ending golden age when it made the raccoon.