The Mississippi Delta is the distinctive northwest section of the U.S. state of Mississippi that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. The region has been called "The Most Southern Place on Earth" ("Southern" in the sense of "characteristic of its region, the American South") because of its unique racial, cultural, and economic history. It was one of the richest cotton-growing areas in the nation. Before the American Civil War (1861-1865), the region attracted many speculators who developed land for cotton plantations; they became wealthy planters dependent for labor on black slaves.
The majority of residents in several counties across the region are still predominately black, although tens of thousands left the region in the 20th century Great Migration to northern industrial cities. The agricultural economy does not support much business, and the region has worked to diversify. The strong musical tradition of African Americans developed blues and jazz. At times the region has suffered heavy flooding from the Mississippi River, notably in 1927 and 2011.
- 1 Geography
- 2 Music
- 3 Travel
- 4 Agriculture and the Delta economy
- 5 Principal towns
- 6 Festivals
- 7 Government and infrastructure
- 8 Demographics
- 9 Education
- 10 Media and publishing
- 11 Transportation
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Technically the area is not a delta but part of an alluvial plain, created by regular flooding over thousands of years. This region is remarkably flat and contains some of the most fertile soil in the world.
It includes all or part of the following counties: Washington, Western DeSoto, Humphreys, Western Carroll, Issaquena, Western Panola, Quitman, Bolivar, Coahoma, Leflore, Sunflower, Sharkey, Tate, Tunica, Tallahatchie, Western Holmes, Western Yazoo, Western Grenada and Warren.
The river delta at the mouth of the Mississippi lies some 300 miles south of this area, and is referred to as the Mississippi River Delta. The two should not be confused, as may happen in some media references or casual conversation.
The Delta is strongly associated with the origins of several genres of popular music, including the Delta blues and rock and roll. The rich music came out of the struggles of mostly black sharecroppers and tenant farmers whose lives were marked by poverty and hardship.
Gussow (2010) examines the conflict between blues musicians and black ministers in the region between 1920 and 1942. The ministers condemned blues music as "devil's music". In response, blues musicians satirized preachers in their music, as for example in the song, "He Calls That Religion", by the blues group Mississippi Sheiks. The lyrics accused black ministers of engaging in and fomenting sinful behavior. The black residents were poor, and the musicians and ministers competed for their money. The Great Migration to northern cities, beginning before World War I, seriously depleted black communities and churches, but it led to the growth of jazz in Chicago, for instance, as musicians moved north.
Southern Living calls the Mississippi Delta "a back road traveler's paradise". Valerie Fraser Luesse showcased the region's character in her March 2008 essay, "Delta Journal". It begins:
The springtime sun is as yellow as a daffodil floating in a sea of blue. From high above, it reaches down to warm a vast expanse of smoky-black earth that smells like river. The cotton is flourishing—clear-to-the-horizon fields of it are broken by groves of pecan trees, whispering to each other in a rustle of leaves. And though you can't see Old Man hidden behind the levee, you can feel his presence—the twisting, turning, mighty, muddy presence of the Mississippi River.
- —Valerie Fraser Luesse
Agriculture and the Delta economy
For more than two centuries, agriculture has been the mainstay of the Delta economy. Sugar cane and rice were introduced to the region by European settlers from the Caribbean in the 18th century. Sugar and rice production were centered in southern Louisiana, and later in the Arkansas Delta.
Early agriculture also included limited tobacco production in the Natchez area and indigo in the lower Mississippi. What had begun as back-breaking land clearing by yeoman farmers, supported by extensive families, was expanded into a labor-intensive plantation system dependent on the labor of enslaved Native Americans. In the 18th century, they were rapidly supplanted by enslaved Africans.
Hundreds of thousands of Africans were captured, sold and transported as slaves from West Africa. It was not until the 19th century that most were brought to the Mississippi Delta through the domestic slave trade, in a forced migration from the Upper South and East Coast. Many were brought up from the slave market at New Orleans. As slavery became institutionalized as a heritable status, Africans and African Americans for generations worked the commodity plantations, which they helped make extremely profitable. African laborers brought critical knowledge and techniques for the cultivation and processing of both rice and indigo.
The invention of the cotton gin in the late 18th century stimulated the widespread production of short-staple cotton, which until then had been too labor-intensive to process. Indian Removal of the 1830s extinguished Native American claims to the lands of the Deep South and opened the way for European-American settlement.
By the early 19th century, cotton had become the Delta’s premier crop, for which there was international demand, and would remain so until well after the American Civil War, even in an era of falling cotton prices. Though cotton planters believed that the alluvial soils of the region would always renew, the agricultural boom from the 1830s to the late 1850s caused extensive soil exhaustion and erosion. Lacking agricultural knowledge, planters continued to raise cotton the same way after the Civil War.
Plantations before the war were generally developed on ridges near the rivers, which provided transportation of products to market. Most of the acreage of the Delta was still uncultivated by the Civil War. At the end of the Civil War, most of the bottomlands behind the ridges were still covered in heavy dense growth of trees, bushes and vines.
Following the Civil War, 90 percent of the bottomlands in Mississippi were still undeveloped, which led to the state's attracting numerous people to its frontier, where their labor in clearing land could be traded to purchase it. Tens of thousands of migrants, both black and white, were drawn to the area. By the end of the century, two-thirds of the independent farmers in the Mississippi Delta were black. The extended low price of cotton had caused many to go deeply into debt, however, and gradually they had to sell off their lands. From 1910 to 1920, the first and second generations of African Americans after slavery lost their stake in the land and had to resort to sharecropping and tenant farming to survive.
Sharecropping and tenant farming replaced the slave-dependent plantation system. This labor system inhibited the use of progressive agricultural techniques. In the late 19th century, the clearing and drainage of wetlands, especially in Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel, increased lands available for tenant farming and sharecropping.
Mechanization starting in the 1930s again altered agricultural economics, as thousands of laborers were no longer needed. They migrated North in the Great Migration, with many settling in Chicago.
Since the late 20th century, lower Delta agriculture has increasingly been dominated by families and nonresident corporate entities that hold large landholdings. Their operations are heavily mechanized with low labor costs. Such farm entities are capital-intensive, where hundreds and thousands of acres are used to produce market-driven crops such as cotton, sugar, rice, and soybeans.
Mechanization and migration
During the 1920s and 1930s, in the aftermath of the increasing mechanization of Delta farms, displaced whites and African Americans began to leave the land and move to towns and cities. It was not until the Great Depression years of the 1930s and later that large-scale farm mechanization came to the region. The mechanization of agriculture and the availability of domestic work outside the Delta spurred the migration of Delta residents from the region. Farming was unable to absorb the available labor force, and entire families moved together.
From the late 1930s through the 1950s, the Delta experienced an agriculture boom, as wartime needs followed by reconstruction in Europe expanded the demand for the Delta region’s farm products. As the mechanization of agriculture continued, women continued to leave the fields and go into service work, while the men drove tractors and worked on the farms. From the 1960s through the 1990s, thousands of small farms and dwellings in the Delta region were absorbed by large corporate-owned agribusinesses, and the smallest Delta communities have stagnated.
Remnants of the region’s agrarian heritage are scattered along the highways and byways of the lower Delta. Larger communities have survived by fostering economic development in education, government, and medicine. Other endeavors such as catfish, poultry, rice, corn, and soybean farming have assumed greater importance. Today, the monetary value of these crops rivals that of cotton production in the lower Delta. Shifts away from the river as a main transportation and trading route to railroads and, more significantly, highways, have left the river cities struggling for new roles and businesses.
In recent years, due to the growth of the automobile industry in the South, many parts suppliers have opened facilities in the Delta (as well as on the Arkansas Delta side of the Mississippi River, another area of high poverty). The 1990s legalization of casino gambling in Mississippi has boosted the Delta's economy, particularly in the areas of Tunica and Vicksburg.
A large cultural influence in the region is its history of hunting and fishing. Hunting in the Delta is primarily for game such as whitetail deer, wild turkey, and waterfowl, along with many small game species (squirrel, rabbit, dove, quail, raccoon, etc.) For many years, the hunting and fishing have also attracted visitors in the regional tourism economy. The Delta is one of the top waterfowl destinations in the world because it is in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway (The largest of all the migratory bird routes in America).
Following is a list of various festivals in the Delta:
Government and infrastructure
The Mississippi Department of Corrections operates the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman, MSP) in unincorporated Sunflower County, within the Mississippi Delta. John Buntin of Governing magazine said that MSP "has long cast its shadow over the Mississippi Delta, including my hometown of Greenville, Mississippi".
Of the state's African American population, 34% resides in the Mississippi Delta.
Primary and secondary schools
As of 2005, the majority of public schools in the Mississippi Delta are majority black, and the majority of private schools are majority white. De facto racial segregation is present in schools in Delta communities. Susan Eckes of The Journal of Negro Education said "Although de facto segregation in schools exists throughout the country, the de facto segregation that exists in the Mississippi Delta region is somewhat unique."
Media and publishing
Newspapers, magazines and journals
- Tunica Municipal Airport (Tunica) ()
- Mid Delta Regional Airport (Greenville)
- Greenwood-Leflore Airport (Greenwood)
- Cleveland Municipal Airport (Cleveland)
- Indianola Municipal Airport (Indianola)
- Yazoo County Airport (Yazoo City)
- Fletcher Field Airport (Clarksdale)
- Ruleville-Drew Airport (Drew and Ruleville)
- U.S. Route 82 runs from Alamogordo, New Mexico to Brunswick, Georgia
- U.S. Route 49 runs from Piggott, Arkansas to Gulfport, Mississippi
- U.S. Route 61 runs from Wyoming, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana
- James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992)
- "Vintage / Anchor « Knopf Doubleday - Vintage / Anchor". Randomhouse.com. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "Mississippi Delta's Economy, Way of Life Fading". NPR. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- "Preface". Usccr.gov. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Cohn, David L. (1948). Where I Was Born and Raised, New York: Houghton Mifflin, p. 12.
- Valerie Fraser Luesse, "Delta Journal", Southern Living, March 2008
- John C. Willis, Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000
- Justin Gardner and Tom Nolan, "An Agricultural Economist's Perspective on the Mississippi Delta", Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, August 2009, Vol. 40 Issue 2, pp 80–89
- [dead link]
- "State Prisons". Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on January 14, 2011.
- "MDOC QUICK REFERENCE". Mississippi Department of Corrections. Retrieved on May 21, 2010.
- Buntin, John. "Down on Parchman Farm". Governing Magazine. July 27, 2010. Retrieved on August 13, 2010.
- "Location". Mississippi Valley State University. Retrieved on April 5, 2012.
- Eckes p. 159.
- Cobb, Charles E., Jr., "Traveling the Blues Highway", National Geographic Magazine, April 1999, v.195, n.4
- Eckes, Suzanne E. "The Perceived Barriers to Integration in the Mississippi Delta". The Journal of Negro Education. Northern hemisphere Spring 2005. Volume 74, No. 2. pp. 159-173. Available at Jstor
- Ferris, William. Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues. The University of North Carolina Press; (2009) ISBN 0-8078-3325-8 ISBN 978-0807833254 (with CD and DVD)
- Ferris, William and Glenn Hinson. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 14: Folklife The University of North Carolina Press (2009) ISBN 0-8078-3346-0 ISBN 978-0-8078-3346-9 (Cover: photo of James Son Thomas)
- Ferris, William; Blues From The Delta Da Capo Press; Revised edition (1988) ISBN 0-306-80327-5 ISBN 978-0306803277
- Ted Gioia; Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. W. W. Norton & Company (2009) ISBN 0-393-33750-2 ISBN 978-0393337501
- Hamilton, Marybeth: In Search of the Blues.
- Gussow, Adam. "Heaven and Hell Parties: Ministers, Bluesmen, and Black Youth in the Mississippi Delta, 1920–1942", Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies, Dec 2010, Vol. 41 Issue 3, pp 186–203
- Sheldon Harris; Blues Who's Who Da Capo Press 1979
- Robert Nicholson; Mississippi Blues Today ! Da Capo Press (1999) ISBN 0-306-80883-8 ISBN 978-0-306-80883-8
- Robert Palmer; Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta - Penguin Reprint edition (1982) ISBN 0-14-006223-8; ISBN 978-0-14-006223-6
- Frederic Ramsey Jr.; Been Here And Gone - 1st edition (1960) Rutgers University Press - London Cassell (UK) andNew Brunswick, NJ
- 2nd printing (1969) Rutgers University Press New Brunswick, NJ
- (2000) University Of Georgia Press
- Charles Reagan Wilson, William Ferris, Ann J. Adadie; Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. The University of North Carolina Press; 2nd Edition (1989). ISBN 0-8078-1823-2, ISBN 978-0-8078-1823-7.
- Cobb, James C. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992) excerpt and text search; also online edition
- Cosby, A.G. et al. A Social and Economic Portrait of the Mississippi Delta (1992) online (Alternate, Archive)
- Currie, James T. Enclave: Vicksburg and Her Plantations, 1863-1870 (1980) excerpt and text search
- Dollard, John. Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1937), sociological study of the Delta
- Gardner, Justin, and Nolan, Tom. "An Agricultural Economist's Perspective on the Mississippi Delta," Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies Aug 2009, Vol. 40 Issue 2, pp 80–89
- Hamlin, Francoise N. Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta After World War II (University of North Carolina Press; 2012) 371 pages
- Helferich, Gerry. High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta (2007) excerpt and text search, growing cotton in 21st century
- McCoyer, Michael. "'Rough Men in "the Toughest Places I Ever Seen': The Construction and Ramifications of Black Masculine Identity in the Mississippi Delta's Levee Camps, 1900-1935," International Labor and Working-Class History, Spring 2006, Issue 69, pp 57-80
- Morris, Christopher. Becoming Southern: The Evolution of a Way of Life, Warren County and Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1770–1860 (1995) excerpt and text search
- Nelson, Lawrence J. "Welfare Capitalism on a Mississippi Plantation in the Great Depression". Journal of Southern History 50 (May 1984): 225–50. in JSTOR
- Owens, Harry P. Steamboats and the Cotton Economy: River Trade in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta (1990). excerpt and text search
- Percy, William Alexander. Lanterns on the Levee; Recollections of a planter's son (1941) 347 pages excerpt and text search
- Powdermaker, Hortense. After Freedom: A Cultural Study in the Deep South (1939), anthropological study of the Delta
- Rogers, Kim Lacy. "Lynching Stories". (Archive) In: Rogers, Kim Lacy, Selma Leydesdorff, and Graham Dawson (editors). Trauma and Life Stories: International Perspectives. Routledge: London and New York City. p. 113-130.
- Rubin, Richard. Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South (2002)
- Saikku, Mikko. This Delta, This Land: An Environmental History of the Yazoo-Mississippi Floodplain (University of Georgia Press, 2005). xx, 373 pp. ISBN 0-8203-2673-9
- Willis, John C. Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta After the Civil War (2000)
- Woodruff, Nan Elizabeth. American Congo: The African American Freedom Struggle in the Delta (2003) excerpt and text search
- "Nile of the New World", John Gunther, National Park Service
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Mississippi Delta.|
- Delta News Online: Hometown News for The Mississippi Delta
- Mississippi Teacher Corps
- Mississippi Delta Tourism Association
- Blues Highway Association
- Delta Center for Culture and Learning
- Delta Council
- Delta Regional Authority
- Delta Research & Extension Center
- Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola
- Charles Reagan Wilson, "Mississippi Delta", Southern Spaces, 4 April 2004. http://southernspaces.org/2004/mississippi-delta
- Mikko Saikku, "Bioregional Approach to Southern History: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta", Southern Spaces, 28 January 2010. http://southernspaces.org/2010/bioregional-approach-southern-history-yazoo-mississippi-delta
- Scott Matthews, "Flatlands in the Outlands: Photographs from the Delta and Bayou", Southern Spaces, 12 December 2011. https://southernspaces.org/2011/flatlands-outlands-photographs-delta-and-bayou
- Fratt, Lisa. "Mississippi Delta Renegade". District Administration. Professional Media Group. Monday December 1, 2003.
- Null, Elisabeth Higgins. "Fifty Years After Brown: The Fight for Equality in Mississippi’s Delta Schools Continues". Rural Roots. Rural School and Community Trust. February 2004.