THE BLUES HIGHWAY: Desegration from Clarksdale to Natchez


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Published: July 6th 2015
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THE BLUES HIGHWAY: Desegregation from Clarksdale to Natchez.

Cotton...gotta love it or hate it.

If I was black and working the plantations in Clarksdale...slave or sharecropper...cutting my hands on the pods...reckon I'd hate it.

If I was a plantation owner...had one of those stupendous mansions in Natchez...once the home of more millionaires than any other city in the World...reckon I'd love it.

But I'm just a humble dancer...reflecting...pretty content with my lot.

******



The polar vortex is hitting hard...icy wind rattling our bones...whistling through the cracks in our sharecroppers shack...huddling together for warmth...conversation...and our love of the blues.

Gary & Tom from Rochester, New York joining us for breakfast at Shack Up Inn.

Tom is a university lecturer researching the history of the Blues...pouring over manuscripts piecing together fortunes and misfortunes of the musos whose music ministers to our souls. Gary joining him as he's a mate...and anything to get into some blues.

Meeting the owner Bill Talbot who set up this place. Bought sharecroppers huts from Duncan, Mississippi and with the cotton gin...keeps adding mementos. And with his neighbour, blues icon Charle Musselwhite, they plan to convert metal silos into further accommodation. They don't advertise he tells us...word of mouth enough. Got us sold!

Morgan Freeman the actor owns Ground Zero Blues Club in town...so into the Caddie for a visit to taste their shredded pork...dreaming of a night here listening to the blues.

But we have other plans for some blues tonight.

The Delta Blues Museum is just over there...and today it's open.

What a buzz to see pics, posters, memorabilia, histories of our favourite musos...marveling how many we know...how little we knew about them.

Hopson Commissary is near our digs for watering the thirst before we head out tonight...the owner the most knowledgable guy in the district...only wish they had the topless gospel choir on another night...sort of advertising poster you look at twice.

He tells us Muddy Water's house down the road was damaged by a tornado...dismantled and sold to the House of the Blues in Chicago for $1,000,000 where it was set up for Blues events and the Atlanta Olympics.

Kinda explains why there's only a tree and a Blues Trail Marker where the house once stood...bit of a hike we took to get to the spot to find no house there!

They have a solo guitarist starting up and they say he's really good...but we've got other plans for blues tonight.

Gary's going to stay here at the bar but Tom wants to join us to head into Clarksdale...'cause word on the streets is the best blues is at Blueberrys...and we're hoping they're right.

******



What school are you at?

We meet a guy who tells us segregation is alive and well in Clarksdale...white kids go to one school...the black kids go to another.

At the end of the 19th century, Mississippi chose to racially segregate public schools. Article VIII, Section 207 of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution states that "Separate schools shall be maintained for children of the white and colored races".

The 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson established the "separate but equal" argument that had been used to defend the state laws which provided for racially segregated schools.

Times where separate they were...equal they never were!

It wasn't until 1954 in the case of Brown -v- Board of Education of Topeka when the Supreme Court made a move to change all that in Clarksdale raising the question:

"Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal education opportunities? We believe it does."

The Supreme Court knew that it would take some time for the "separate but equal" doctrine to be reversed in the school districts across the country.

It seems they were right.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, almost 500 laws were enacted in southern states which in some way prevented the desegregation of public schools.

Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia passed laws which prohibited non-segregated public schools.

Eventually by the 1970s Mississippi accepted desegregation of public schools.

Section 37-15-35 of the Mississippi School Code reads:

"Segregation or integration of schools by reason of race, color, or national origin prohibited. No person shall be assigned to or by, or restricted from or to, any group, area, school, institution or other political subdivision of the State of Mississippi on the account of race, color, or national origin. There shall be no governmentally enforced segregation by race, color, or national origin and there shall be no governmentally enforced integration by reason of race, color or national origin. (Mississippi School Code, page 472-473)"

Yet old prejudices die hard it seems.

Clarksdale is located in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta in the N-E corner of Mississippi...and cotton was its crop of choice.

And white plantation owners knew the key to success was cheap labour...and that labour was black.

It seems after slavery was abolished the black plantation workers only way to survive was to continue to work the cotton plantations...as sharecroppers on low wages.

In1964, citizens of Clarksdale commenced court proceedings on behalf of Rebecca Henry, a black student, seeking she be allowed to attend the all-white Clarksdale High School. The plaintiffs argued that she was not getting an equal education at the all-black W. A. Higgins High School.

This was the first case in which a black student had sued to enter a white school in the Northern District of Mississippi. The Clarksdale Municipal Separate School District did not dispute Rebecca Henry's right to attend Clarksdale High School and told the court it was preparing a plan to desegregate the public schools.

The District Court issued an injunction on June 26, 1964, requiring the school district to submit a desegregation plan and to "progress with all deliberate speed", but it dragged on for years.

Rebecca Henry ultimately never went to Clarksdale High but graduated from Higgins.

It seems that for many years, blacks and whites settled in different areas of the town. Most of the black citizens of Clarksdale lived south of the railroad tracks and the whites lived in the north.

Accordingly, the school district used the railroad tracks to divide the city into several elementary zones and two junior/senior high school zones, each in either an entirely black or entirely white part of town.

And there was a time when laws decreed you attend the school nearest your home.

And another when Clarksdale High had only one black student...'cause she wanted to study Latin.

And at one stage Higgins had a really good basketball team so the blacks were not keen to go to the white school and play or graduate in different school colours.

And for some reason if black teachers were transferred to white dominant schools they complained they got lower pay than the white teachers.

I thought it was only women that got paid less!

So it seems the battle for wage equality is or has not been only a gender issue...but a racial issue.

Ultimately all the schools accepted students of all races, colours and creeds...but it seems parents of both sides often choose with their feet...and their children attend schools where their colour predominates.

Well that's what we were told.

Could only happen in Mississippi I say.

But how would I know?

I'm just a humble dancer...boogieing to my own beat!!!





Blueberrys

He is a native American from the Crow Indian Nation...Cary Morin...a guitar picker extraordinaire...playing the blues for us tonight.

On his way to Memphis as a finalist in the International Blues Challenge in a couple of weeks.

Sitting with his wife so pretty easy for him to sing to us...chatting with us during breaks...sharing stories of the life of a bluesman on the road...pretty hard gig no matter how good you are.

Do well Cary...listening to your autographed CD now.



How Dancers travel

We all love travel and we all have our own way to travel.

Some say if you don't have a backpack or don't catch local buses...you ain't travelling.

Others like coaches, flying, cruising, trekking, biking, self-drive, taxis, ballooning...luxury, budget, hostel, mixed...eco, green, light, dark, hard, soft, fast, slow...as long as it's travel...it's travel I say.

But what is important is called "attitude".

Mixing with locals...playing to our own tune...letting serendipity light our path.

The less well trodden the path, the better.

So when we traveled the Blues Highway we had a start and end point.

And in the middle we just slow down...we'll get there.

Taking our time...not walking so fast...just staying on the road.

And if that means we spend most of our time in Memphis and Clarksdale and don't get to spend time in Jackson and Vicksburg as hoped...well...bugger it.

We're not on a coach tour.

'Cause this is the way...this is our way to travel.

One foot in front of the other...just keep walking.

Walking the blues.



Natchez

We are due in New Orleans in a couple of days so gotta leave our new friends in Clarksdale and hit the road.

Meeting the other owner of Shack Up Inn.

Telling how they rented...then bought the land in 2004.

How the locals laughed when they bought the sharecropper huts and put them on the property.

"Who will want to stay here?" were the mocking cries.

Now they thank them!

But gotta grab a handful of CDs to remember them by.

I've brought our compilation blues and rock CDs that we drove down the Andes in Patagonia by...but I've got so much new music I reckon I've gotta leave my own music at home in future.

I bought 13 CDs in Mali...gave some of mine away in Ethiopia...like I did in China and Java...at least we got to listen to some of them.

But this trip...nah...just time to listen to the new blues CDs.

Maybe when we get to Peru, Bolivia or Chile we'll see.

Gotta hear this new Kenny Brown CD.

Enjoying Jimmy Burns Delta Blues right now.

Denise driving and me changing the music.

When she's happy...I'm happy.

Lot of fast driving today.

Just this once...please don't put me in
PaulPaulPaul

Our host in Natchez
the boot!!!

******

As we head south on Highway 61 the flat cotton fields give way to hills and forests. Really nice to have such light traffic.

By the time we reach Natchez we head into the old part of town.

Den on the ipad trawling Airbnb for a place to stay.

Sees a review for Starling's Rest B&B and gives Paul a call.

He's in Baton Rouge but checks our profile and reviews of our previous hosts and says "Yes".

He won't be there but gives us directions how to find his house and how to get in and will see us later tonight.

Palatial mansion in a street full of mansions...the Magnolia room upstairs. Four poster bed, red and gold covers, polished floors, antiques, flat TV, fabulous en-suite bathroom...and for only $110...reckon we got a bargain tonight.

Fabulous meal at the Cotton Alley Cafe...zzzzz.

Didn't meet Paul until the morning...nicest guy...fabulous self-serve breakfast...fabulous house.

The house has one row of houses on the other side of the street and then there's a cliff separating the houses from the Mississippi River down there.

But it wasn't always like that.

In 1951 the cliff on which there were houses one block away collapsed. It is now called The Bluff. Meant the houses across the road now have the river views!

So we walked around the streets taking it all in.

In the 19th century this area had the most millionaires in the World.

Thanks Paul...thanks to Airbnb...another fabulous place to stay.



Longwood

Paul suggests we visit this palatial home on our way out. And when locals give tips...only the arrogant say "No".

An antebellum octagonal house from pre-civil war cotton money.

Supposed to be four levels but only the basement level was built before the Civil War so it was never finished.

Pretty sumptuous anyway. The other skeleton levels showing how it could have been.



New Orleans next stop.

One foot in front of the other...'cause we're walking...walking the blues.



Relax & Enjoy,

Dancing Dave


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Cary MorinCary Morin
Cary Morin

Blueberrys, Clarksdale


7th July 2015

Along the Mighty Mississippi
My mother grew up in the south and once I tried picking cotton. It is very hard work. But now you are in the heart of the blues. I can feel the excitement. I can feel the beat. Highway 61 was made for the dancing ones. The blues, the blues and more blues....it is a good life.
8th July 2015

Along the Mighty Mississippi
Just wish we had more time. But something bluesier awaits!
7th July 2015
Shack Up Inn

America
Looks like a Norman Rockwell painting.
8th July 2015
Shack Up Inn

America
I'd better check Norman Rockwell's works. Clarksdale was like a painting I've gotta admit...real get down & embrace country.
8th July 2015

Beautiful blog on a tough subject
Another excellent blog on a haunting part of the country. Loved the travel style writeup; it matches my own. Sad as it is to say, school discrimination isn't just limited to Mississippi. It persisted for years after the Brown decision in most Southern states. If you ever make it to Charlotte North Carolina, the incredibly well done Museum of the New South has the whole shameful story (including the sociology research that actually won the Brown case).
8th July 2015

Beautiful blog on a tough subject
Thanks Ezra. There was also a lot of info at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis in relation to the school segregation issue as well but as Clarksdale had its own unique issues I had to comment. I wanted to touch on other shocking racial history issues in Clarksdale as well but kept clear as I did not want to distract from the issues I did write about.
10th July 2015

Segregation... it's everywhere... unfortunately
I saw a lot of signs of segregation during my visit to France now and here in Sweden there is also a lot of segregation. IT might now be governed by law but it's no less potent in disrupting society. I wish segregation would end and we'd all be able to live well together without issue. Keep dancing along your enlightened path my friend and spread that light around you, it's glow will keep us all warm. =)
10th July 2015

Segregation... it's everywhere... unfortunately
Segregation...a polite word for one of the aspects of Racism. Not the "smiley on the beach partying travel" topic Per-Olof but one I feel must be broached as it is so pervasive and affects the smiles of the populous exposed to it, which to my mind is too many. We know it exists in society but that it still exists in schools even if only psychologically shocks me. I appreciate your comments. Sometimes light in dark corners can bring change so any little bit is to mind worthwhile.
11th July 2015

Salient points
A wonderful account David - one of the best you have written to date. The best we can do is to take on board the salient points & use them to filter & direct our own walk through life in our own resident country. I very much enjoyed this part of the long trip. It was a time of reflection, observation & enjoyment of the music that we so love.

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