Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II

Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II

Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II

Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II

Synopsis

Weaving national narratives from stories of the daily lives and familiar places of local residents, Francoise Hamlin chronicles the slow struggle for black freedom through the history of Clarksdale, Mississippi. Hamlin paints a full picture of the town over fifty years, recognizing the accomplishments of its diverse African American community and strong NAACP branch, and examining the extreme brutality of entrenched power there. The Clarksdale story defies triumphant narratives of dramatic change, and presents instead a layered, contentious, untidy, and often disappointingly unresolved civil rights movement.
Following the black freedom struggle in Clarksdale from World War II through the first decade of the twenty-first century allows Hamlin to tell multiple, interwoven stories about the town's people, their choices, and the extent of political change. She shows how members of civil rights organizations, especially local leaders Vera Pigee and Aaron Henry, worked to challenge Jim Crow through fights against inequality, police brutality, segregation, and, later, economic injustice. With Clarksdale still at a crossroads today, Hamlin explores how to evaluate success when poverty and inequality persist.

Excerpt

It is by knowing where you stand that you grow able to judge where you
are. Place absorbs our earliest notice and attention, it bestows upon us our
original awareness; and our critical powers spring up from the study of it and
the growth experiences inside it…. One place comprehended can make us
understand other places better. Sense of place gives us equilibrium;
extended, it is sense of direction too
.—Eudora Welty

Drive the approximately seventy miles south to Clarksdale, Mississippi, from Memphis, Tennessee, on U.S. Highway 61 through Tunica County. Fields dominate the landscape, broken only by lines of trees between properties or crops. Depending on the time of year, crop dusters might zigzag low across the asphalt and telegraph poles as they drop their loads of fertilizers and pesticides on the once-rich soils of the Mississippi Delta. In the fall, the fields dress in white as cotton bursts from straining bolls.

Coming in from the east along Route 6 from Batesville, the view is more dramatic. Fields still dominate this landscape too, but the road winds gracefully around smaller plots, where the trees seem taller and the buildings hug the road. At night there is no light, no distinction between the land and the heavens. The lights from Clarksdale, Coahoma County’s seat, illuminate the sky, like a stadium rock concert, miles before the city comes into view. Turning the last bend, hidden by a bank of tall mature trees, the city crouches low on the horizon.

My favorite Delta entrance, though, is from the south. Route 49 East cuts through the Delta diagonally from Yazoo City to Clarksdale. Yazoo City sits amid rolling hills and marks the southern tip of the Delta. The traffic falls away . . .

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