Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Delta Education of Suzassippi

Thursday morning I was up early to drive back over to Glendora and then cool my heels while the group had breakfast and waited for Antoinette to arrive for the tour. Mayor Thomas took us on the tour of the town, beginning with the Emmett Till memorial bridge and park. It is hard for me to believe, but there are still people who do not know the story of Emmett Till's brutal lynching in Mississippi in 1955.

His body was dumped from this bridge into the Black Bayou. History records he was thrown into the Tallahatchie, but subsequent investigation revealed Black Bayou was the spot, and eventually, his body was carried to the edge of the Tallahatchie where it was discovered.

We made a stop at the housing complex which is owned by the local development corporation, and while the mayor discussed housing and poverty issues (the average income of a resident in Glendora is $6000 a year or less), the group was astonished to see prison labor on the county garbage pick up. Cheri wandered over and in a few minutes yelled out "they want to talk to us!"
Across the tracks are the remnants of the closed grocery store, a bar, and a row of empty buildings. This young man recognized Antoinette and came over with his friends to meet with us about some of their concerns living in the community. There is no work, no school, no grocery store, no gasoline pump, no laundry facility. There is a limited health care clinic, but the poverty level is so high, no one can afford to utilize it. The ambulance service takes 2 hours to get to the community, even though there is a hospital 30 minutes away.
These are the "Delta Boys" and like many young black men in poverty, they dream of success as rappers and musicians.
The Emmett Till Museum is located in the old cotton gin. A walk leading to the building reminded me of a peace sign.

We finished our tour that day driving over to a plantation to meet a family. I was not surprised to see us show up at the row of shotgun houses I had photographed on my way into town the previous day. We met with the sisters living there, along with their mother and several children, in a one bedroom shotgun house. They pay to stay in a house that looks like a hold over from the Great Depression--unpainted boards, holes in the walls and floors, no windows, only a light bulb in one room, no flush toilet--at least not one that was working.

The area is home to big agriculture. The plantations these days are owned by corporations--all along the drive I saw signs that said "Delta Plastics." That is the corporation that owns all the farms, and provides what limited employment is available working in the fields.

I was burdened by the fact that less than two hours from the university exist conditions that are as bad as any I have seen in Belize or South Africa.

Friday, I was back in Glendora at 8 a.m. for the final day of planning for the Poor People's Economic & Human Rights Campaign march. The purpose is to continue building support for a poor people's movement to end poverty and the housing/health care crisis. I also left the meeting Friday afternoon armed with contact information for the follow up work that my colleague and I will begin in Glendora, starting Monday. It's one thing to not know about it before now, except in an abstract way. Now that I know it in reality and these people and places have faces and names, it is impossible not to support their dreams. We are not talking charity here--though a good dose of charity is necessary for the children to eat right now--but a community organization to develop employment, housing, & health care. If the townships in South Africa can do it--and some of them have--then surely we can do it in a community of 285 individuals who are an hour and a half from the resources of the University of Mississippi and a department of social workers trained in community development and social capital.

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