Down In The Land of Cotton

As soon as I meet Celeste, I knew an adventure was going to happen. How many chics would run out through a field of cotton so I could get a pic? If you’ve ever been around cotton in the field you know what I mean. On this particular trip we were headed to Grenada, Mississippi to see Erma, she’s a very old friend of the family much like a second Mother to Celeste.

The trip would take us through the boot heel of Missouri into Memphis and south to Tunica, MS until the early 1990s, the rural town of Tunica was one of the most impoverished places in the United States. It gained national attention for its deprived neighborhood known as “Sugar Ditch Alley”, named for the open sewer located there. Today, Tunica is a gambling mecca and a delta community where it’s Main Street treasure hunting for antiques is a hot spot, or so they say.

U. S. Highway 61, known as the “blues highway,” according to Mississippi history experts Highway 61 rivals Route 66 as the most famous road in American music lore. Dozens of blues artists like B. B. King, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Ike Turner and Junior Parker have all lived near Highway 61. I would say they are right. When it comes to music Highway 61 probably takes the cake.

The Blues Mueseum is set in a restored 1895 train depot relocated from Dundee Mississippi, the museum is a must stop on any Mississippi Delta blues pilgrimage. The interactive exhibits play blues music and videos – educating you about the roots of slave music and the influence of church hymns and juke joints as breeding grounds. The displays also guide you along many of the other blues trail markers you’ll see along your blues trail. Here you will find WC Handy’s coronet and Robert Johnson’s guitar in addition to over 700 items that are currently on display. It’s a gateway to the Blues as you make your way along the Mississippi Blues Trail. It’s a “Gotta Stop” kind of place.

Dockery Farms, one of the most important plantations in the Delta, was founded in 1895 by William Alfred “Will” Dockery (1865-1936). Dockery purchased thousands of acres bordering the Sunflower River and worked for years to clear the swampy woodlands. At its peak Dockery Farms was essentially a self-sufficient town with an elementary school, churches, post and telegraph offices, its own currency, resident doctor, railroad depot, ferry, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, cemeteries, picnic grounds for the workers, and a commissary that sold dry goods, furniture, and groceries.

In the early 20th century Dockery housed four hundred tenant families, most of whom were African Americans who migrated to the region in pursuit of work. Will Dockery earned a reputation for treating his tenants fairly, and many resided there for long periods of time.

The cotton gin sits toward the back of Dockery Farms, filling the room. It looms over workers during a time when its importance commanded attention. A deafening roar would filled the room where the gargantuan cotton gin was working, the heat was stifling. Men operating the machine would have been covered head-to-toe in cotton lint. The pipes would have exhaled seedless cotton. Its could easily cut off a man’s finger.

After all that we finally got to Erma.

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