Time's River: Archaeological Syntheses from the Lower Mississippi River Valley

By Janet Rafferty; Evan Peacock | Go to book overview

17
Sad Song in the Delta
The Potential for Historical Archaeology
in the I-69 Corridor

Amy L. Young


Introduction

The Mississippi Delta has historically been, and continues to be, one of the most tormented regions in the South. John Emmerich, former editor and publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth, noted in 1991 in a Time magazine article that the Delta has “the highest rate of everything bad, like teen pregnancy, and the lowest rate of everything good, like income” (Sidey 1991). In the 1960s, from Memphis to Vicksburg, this area was one of the deadliest battlegrounds in the Civil Rights movement, and one of the poorest and blackest parts of this country. Blacks who had not left Delta cotton plantations to migrate to Northern cities suffered horrible poverty and, in some cases, near-starvation. When Robert F. Kennedy visited the Delta in 1967, he expressed (cited in Sidey 1991) his shock at the living conditions there, saying, “My God, I didn't know this kind of thing existed. How can a country like this allow it?”

The poverty and harsh segregation that Kennedy witnessed were preceded by the oppression associated with the rise of King Cotton in the Delta. This chapter considers the historical archaeology that has been accomplished in the region, or more accurately, the near-lack of historical archaeology in the Delta, but most significantly, the potential that historical archaeology in this area has to address some critically important questions similar to the one asked by Bobby Kennedy: “How could a country like this allow it?” I am interested in examining the historical processes that led up to the characterization of the Delta today as having the most of everything bad and the least of everything good. In this, I unabashedly view the culture of the Delta in the Historic period as a consequence of blackness and so tend to emphasize African-American sites. But blackness is meaningless without whiteness, and so I do not advocate ignoring white sites. In fact, to fully understand the black experience, because it took place largely in the context of white hegemony we absolutely must examine planter homes, white-owned mercantile establishments, and towns

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