Historic Periods, Education,
Science, Inventions, and Discoveries, Literature,
Folklore and Cultural Traditions, Music
of the Delta, Politics and Civil Rights,
Performing and Visual Arts
Throughout the Mississippi River Valley a varied array of historic
places reflects the richness of African-American history. These places
tell the well-known stories of the contributions of such African Americans
as Harlem Renaissance literary figure Arna W. Bontemps, Pulitzer Prize-winning
author Alex Haley, legendary bluesman W.C. Handy, and civil rights leader
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Farish Street Neighborhood Historic District, in Jackson,
Mississippi, encompasses the largest economicaly independent black
community in the State.
These places eloquently record the exceptional daily lives of countless
others such as Marie Therese Coincoin, Thomas Freeman, and the Mazique
family. Survival, self-determination, perseverance, and triumph shaped
human experiences from work to leisure, from slavery to the struggle
for freedom and civil rights, from domesticity to the military, and
from religion to the arts and education through more than three centuries.
Houses, plantations, schools, churches, cemeteries, forts, fraternal
organizations, business districts, and residential neighborhoods across
the region embody the African-American spirit. Evergreen, one of the
largest and most intact antebellum agricultural complexes in the South,
illustrates the plantation system and its inextricable dependence on
slave labor. Union efforts to control the Lower Mississippi during the
Civil War were assisted by the valiant contributions of black troops
in battles at Port Hudson and Fort Pillow. During and after Reconstruction,
African Americans created their own independent communities, the cultural
cornerstones of which were educational institutions such as Alcorn State
University, in Lorman, Mississippi, the first land grant school for
African Americans in the country. Churches such as the Mount Olive United
Methodist Church in Van Buren, Arkansas, which houses one of the oldest
congregations of black United Methodists west of the Mississippi; and
social halls of fraternal organizations such as the Mosaic Templars
of America and the Knights and Daughters of Tabor also were part of
the cultural foundation. Pinnacles in the struggle for equality and
civil rights are exemplified by Little Rock's Central High School, a
symbol of 1950s school segregation, and Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee,
where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his renowned "Mountaintop"
speech the night before his assassination at the city's Lorraine Motel
on April 4, 1968.
The Mississippi Delta region offers one of the best examples of African-American
influence. The lower region (originally having Spanish and French influence)
and the upper region (originally having Native American and Anglo-American
influence) were changed by the introduction of African Americans. There
is much to learn about how and why African Americans migrated, the impacts
of African Americans on the larger culture, and the mixing of African
Americans with other cultures.
The story of the struggle of African Americans for education is a long
one. Industrial, agricultural, or vocational education were some of
the few options that were open to African Americans. Because the states
did not support the education of African Americans, the church, communities,
and community-based organizations became involved. They had to work
together to achieve what they wanted, and grassroots efforts were a
part of the struggle.
Science, Inventions, and Discoveries
African Americans have made major contributions to the scientific and
industrial development of the Delta and the nation.
There is a richness and complexity to the African American literary
canon, although many Americans and others are unaware of the diversity
of the writers and the literature.
Folklore and Cultural Traditions
Architecture and cultural landscapes: Understanding and preserving
African-American architectural features and landscapes illustrate the
Delta's special sense of place.
Folk Music: A comprehension of African-American culture is encouraged
by a broad appreciation of African-American musicincluding such
forms as jazz, blues, zydeco, gospel, and cajun.
Religion: Different cultures have different styles of worship. The
church is not isolated and separate from the society in which it functions.
Religion sometimes creates and propagates culture and cultural values
(and vice versa). The relationship between churches and the civil rights
movement is part of the legacy of religion in the African-American community.
Celebrations and Folk Rituals: African-American folk celebrations
have social and economic values that support communities. Knowing any
part of a culture, for example folk celebrations, helps people understand
and appreciate that culture.
Foods: Traditions about food, for example gathering methods and tools,
tie the community together in many ways. Many seeds, spices, and plants
were smuggled from Africa by way of slave ships, and many Delta dishes
and cooking methods are from Africa. Foods found in the Delta region
(such as Cajun and Creole and foods with ingredients brought from Africa)
are unique to this area.
Folktales: African-American folktales, rooted in pain, suffering,
religion, and joy, resulted in oral and written stories that influenced
daily lives, behavior, and knowledge. Folktales convey the history,
cultural values, and morals of African-Americans in the Delta.
Music of the Delta
Music is a communication tool that is integral to understanding the
African-American community. Music (such as gospel, jazz, blues, zydeco,
and folk music) is a language that displays, interprets, and communicates
life in the lower Mississippi Delta region in a way unlike any other.
Music teaches family values and respect for tradition, serves as an
emotional outlet, brings people and community together (for funerals,
births, celebrations, etc.), and reflects family life and the lives
of the composers and performers. Music can be used as an invaluable
mechanism to demonstrate our common likenesses.
Politics and Civil Rights
The civil rights movement identified with the 1960s was not only a
1960s phenomenon. The struggle for civil rights began with the uprisings
and rebellions of the era of slavery. The civil rights movement was
a grassroots movement that relied on the participation of ordinary people.
It was intended to affect America as a whole, not just the South. The
movement changed the life of every person in the country. The national
civil rights movement is integral to understanding politics and the
civil rights movement in the Delta region. Incidents in this region
related to the civil rights movement-in particular events in Little
Rock, Arkansas (Central High School)-played a major part in shaping
integration throughout the region. The church played a role in the political
and civil rights processes. The voting rights movement led to the election
of a larger number of African-American politicians, contributing to
improved civil rights and economic development among African Americans
across the country.
Performing and Visual Arts
The Delta Region, and specifically New Orleans, is a major African-American
cultural center in the United States. The performing arts are a foundation
of African-American culture and are a way of sharing culture. The call-and-response
method of singing and the shout dance are derived from African-American
religious observances. Some of the most outstanding visual artists came
from the Delta area. The diversity of expression found in the visual
and performing arts of the region are integral to the Delta experience.
National and State Parks in the Delta Region
Relating to African-American Heritage
Cane River Creole National Historical
Park and Heritage Area, Louisiana
Cultural resources in this area of northwest Louisiana are of possible
significance to the Caddo of Oklahoma, the Clifton Choctaw/Appalachee,
the Tunica Biloxi, and descendants of the communities of Creoles of
color (for example, at Isle Brevelle).
Jean Lafitte National Historical
Park and Preserve, Louisiana
Located in New Orleans, the park has many layers of significance for
African Americans: the development of jazz; Creoles of color; the participation
of freedmen of color in the battle at Chalmette and the burial of African
Americans in the national cemetery; and the location of an African-American
community on the site of the battlefield through the 1960s.
Natchez National Historical Park,
The park explores the experiences of all peoples of Natchez, a notable
slave-holding community of the antebellum period. The park includes
the William Johnson House, the home of a freedman whose diary chronicles
pre-Civil War African-American life.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical
This park was created to foster the preservation, education, and interpretation
of jazz as it evolved in New Orleans.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial,
In the nearby courthouse, Dred Scott sued for freedom in the historic
slavery case. (More Information)
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Stephen Bishop, a slave belonging to the cave's owner when it was opened
for public tours, was one of the original guides and explorers of the
Vicksburg National Military Park,
17,869 out of 186,000 servicemen in army and naval units on both sides
during the Civil War were African-Americans from Mississippi. For example,
in 1863 blacks participated in the battles at Milliken's Bend and Port
NPS Education/Interpretation Publications
and Web Sites
Railroad: Taking the Train to Freedom
The Underground Railroad originated during the colonial era as slaves
sought ways to escape the inhumane treatment of bondage. Neither "underground"
nor a "railroad," this secretive system was not initially organized,
but arose when escaped slaves sought refuge in unclaimed territories
and newly settled colonies. With the assistance of agents such as the
Quakers, free blacks, and Native Americans, slaves were able to gain