Yazoo City and the Mississippi Delta

7/13/11 – The library in Yazoo City, MS is one of the most amazing libraries on the trip. We wanted to spend the whole day here but I limited it to about 2 1/2 hours. Built in 1900 the interior of the B.S. Ricks Memorial Library is both stunning and old, spacious yet small, a keeper of local history but also filled with people using computers. The local historian and librarian was like Shelby Foote in Ken Burn’s Civil War series. He made Yazoo City’s history come alive. All the floods, fires, and local citizens became significant to us through John’s beautiful Southern voice. He even told the story of the 19th Century witch that cast a curse on the town before the citizens killed her. The curse came true when the town burned on the day she predicted. He then introduced me to an older, distinguished looking woman who convincingly preforms the historical role of the witch to local groups. She took Nick and Walker out to lunch and introduced them to the local town leaders and newspaper reporters. I stayed and continued to photograph all aspects of the Ricks library. We drove from one of the best libraries of the trip to the Tchula library in the poorest county in the poorest state in the nation. The library was open but the lights were off and the AC had been broken for a year. The librarian was very nice but it was stifling inside. We drove on to Belzoni which calls itself the Catfish Capitol of the World and has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the U.S. The whole town has colorful catfish sculptures but the librarian said most of the catfish production is gone. Belzoni was also the site of bitter civil rights struggles in the 1950s and 60s. Known as “Bloody Belzoni” for the uninvestigated and unsolved murders of civil rights pioneers. Despite the poverty it elected its first African American Mayor in 2006. In the tiny town of Arcola the African American librarian was excited to pose in front of the library. When she smiled, her gold grill sparkled. Greenville and Leland showed us two Mississipppis. One black and poor and one white and relatively well off. As the sky darkened with an approaching thunderstorm we drove into the small Delata town of Indianola, home of B B King.
7/14/11 – We continued to photograph small Mississippi Delta libraries. The Shaw and Moorhead libraries were really interesting and typical of the area. Itta Bena is the birthplace of B B King. I entered the small library and struck up a conversation with the two older African American women working there. Because they were of a certain age I asked if either of them knew B B King. One woman’s eyes lit up and said that when he was a boy his mother used to party a lot on the weekends. As a result he would stay with them and this librarian knew him pretty well. I photographed the other librarian, a Rosa Parks poster and two kids standing in front of the library. The small, poor town of Sunflower has an abandoned library that has stood empty for a number of years. Surrounded by forests and invading plants it possessed a quiet, desolate beauty. The Shelby library is located in an old train depot. As I was photographing a man in a truck pulled up and engaged me in a wonderful conversation about my project and the local bank. Later, an older farmer pulled up and wants me to photograph his three legged dog standing in the back of his pickup. Tutweiler’s main economy is based on the Mississippi State Penitentiary, one of the most brutal in the country. As we saw in Oklahoma, California is shipping its excess prisoners here. The nearby casino has actually drawn away jobs from the community, one of the poorest in the country. Surprisingly, the Tutweiler library had columns in front and was in much better shape than the surrounding town. Due to the high unemployment in the area everywhere we see unemployed men sitting around playing dominoes and drinking all day. The only stores opened were liquor or convenience stores. Some of what we see we imagine looks like poor, rural Africa. It is not surprising that blues music was born here. We spent the night in Clarksdale. For dinner we went to the famous Ground Zero Blues Club, started by Morgan Freeman. My Delta Catfish dinner was amazing and then the band started to play. We were all blown away by the incredible range of talent we heard on stage. The lead guitarist was awesome. The nearby Blues Museum has a special program to train talented local kids to play the blues. People of all ages came on stage and rocked the place. I can’t remember ever having more fun in a funky blues bar. I said to Nick “This sure beats blogging.” But true to form we get back to our motel and spend the next couple of hours working away.

 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Yazoo City and the Mississippi Delta

  1. p

    Here is a shout out from Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the library road trip.

  2. rae

    Thank you so much for visiting Yazoo City, Mississippi and Rick’s Memorial Library. Your interview with John Ellzey, reference librarian, is priceless to us especially now. John passed away on August 7, 2016 after being diagnosed with leukemia just a month before. John was so knowledgeable about all things Yazoo and it is wonderful to watch your video again and see John doing what he did best. Thank you again. rae shannon in Yazoo City.

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