Friday, November 4, 2016

Can North Lawndale learn from Mississippi?

I've been living in North Lawndale for some time. But unlike the vast majority of my brothers and sisters  in North Lawndale, I am a Georgia Boy.  Spending a good deal of time in other parts of the country on the east coast, the west coast, the southeast, I seldom met folks from Mississippi.  That all changed in North Lawndale and Chicago! Everyone here, it seems, has families who followed that Great River Road to Chicago. Looking back at Mississippi by my friends invoke nostalgia, but also fear and loathing. Mr. Ross remembers leaving under the cover of darkness to escape the sharecropping debt collectors. Blanche's memories are more pleasant.  But, ever how Mississippians got to Chicago and North Lawndale, they are here.

I was in Stan's Carwash on a Saturday morning. It was packed, but quiet. No one appeared to know the others. One very loud gentleman walked in, spotted someone he knew, and said, "I just got back from Mississippi". "Oh, yeah," said another person, inquiring as to where?  The first gentleman said he had been in Cleveland.  Immediately, another person announced he was from Mound Bayou, to which a second person said she was from Mound Bayou too.  And so it went... the Delta roll-call.  Greenville, Greenwood, Batesville, Leland, Clarksdale.  All these towns  are within a radius of 30 miles of each other, and these folks didn't really know each other.  But here they all were in a small carwash on a Saturday in North Lawndale. No mention of Georgia, by-the-way. My Georgia people were clustered more in D.C., Philly, Jersey, NYC, Detroit. That was a more of a comfort zone for me.

A few years later I was at a conference in Memphis, Capital of the Delta. I decided to take a day or two and drive down through this fabled place, the Mississippi Delta. Of course I knew all the data on the Delta, poorest this, poorest that, the scariest place in America.  But, I was surprised to find myself on such a significant cultural journey  into the "soul" of America. Perhaps it says more about who we are as a nation than any other place. Here's some of that I saw...

I have to say, my favorite was Itta Bena. Clearly a town that time has forgotten as it sits on the Roebuck Lake, off theYalobusha River, near Money, Mississippi and the Tallahatchie River.

 Greenwood, Mississippi.  A bit larger than most of the little towns in the area.  I don't recall seeing any white folks here.  Hmmnnn...

 A surreal bayou in the middle of Indianola.

 Many of you will know about U.S. Route 61 as it cuts through Leland, heading north. The "Blues" were happening here.

 Sunflower County Courthouse

 The B.B. King Museum in Indianola.

Oxford... does it really classify as being "in the Delta'?  I don't know, it's terrain is hillier and Ol' Miss is here.

Some observations from a brief drive around the Delta...
(1). A great appreciation for the Delta's culture.  Every town seems to have its famous, infamous, or not so famous Blue's musician;
(2) It is clean! Perhaps that is a function of  the rural character, but North Lawndale could certainly learn from its Delta cousins.
(3) I believe I now know more about my neighbors here in North Lawndale. I've heard their stories, and now there is a place I have seen associated with those stories.

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