Mississippi Delta

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There’s a big part of rural America that everyone’s ignoring - The Washington Post

There’s another rural America that exists beyond this rural white America. Nearly 10.3 million people, about one-fifth of rural residents, are people of color. Of this population, about 40 percent are African American, 35 percent are nonwhite Hispanic, and the remaining 25 percent are Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander or multiracial. And this rural America is expected to grow in the coming decades, as rural areas see a rapid increase in Latino immigration.

This rural America, much like rural white America, can be found from coast to coast. But these rural Americans tend to live in different places from rural whites: across the Mississippi Delta and the Deep South; throughout the Rio Grande Valley; on reservations and native lands in the Southwest, Great Plains and Northwest.

This rural America has a different history from rural white America: a history of forced migration, enslavement and conquest. This rural America receives even lower pay and fewer protections for its labor than does rural white America. And, as my own research shows, this rural America attends very different schools than rural white America, schools that receive far less funding and other resources.

In fact, the relationship between rural white communities and rural communities of color is much like the relationship between urban white communities and urban communities of color: separate and unequal.

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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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I met Jamarcus in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. He was just getting ready for his daily run, down an old dirt road, by the trailer where he and his family live. He was a couple of weeks from finishing high school and moving on with his life. 

Jamarcus: Running track changed my life more than anything.

BW: How did that change your life?

Jamarcus: I never knew I could do it and it turns out I’m pretty good at it. I just want to make it out of this small town and it’s looking like track is my way. I have a full ride scholarship to Valley and I joined the National Guard so they’ll pay me when I’m in school. I just want to get up outta here. 

Dockery Plantation was a 10,000-acre (40 km2) cotton plantation and sawmill in Dockery, Mississippi on the Sunflower River between Ruleville and Cleveland, Mississippi. It is widely regarded as the place where Delta blues music was born. Blues musicians residents at Dockery included Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. 

Photo by Brecht Machiels