Healthy Soul

Jackson, MS – Exploring the Mississippi Delta

My friend Valarie and I are on our own Black History tour aboard Amtrak, visiting heritage sites pertaining to African American history in Chicago, Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Washington,DC. We began on Tuesday, June 28, 2011. Here is what we did on Day 6, our third day in Jackson, MS.

Today, we decided to visit the Mississippi Delta, but we didn’t know exactly where it was. Online searches directed us to multi-day driving tours in areas like Clarksdale, MS, where actor Morgan Freeman lives. The city closest to us was Yazoo City, named by the Native Americans, and located on the Yazoo River. We used back roads through farm lands for the one-hour drive northwest of Jackson.

Bethel A.M.E. Church, Yazoo City, MS.

The first point of interest we happened upon was the Oak Grove A.M.E. church in Benton. The marker told us that members of the congregation provided food and water to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and fellow marchers on the way to Jackson in June 1966. I was getting an “on the ground” lesson about how deeply and comprehensively the Civil Rights Movement reached into each community.

Yazoo City greeted us with its logo “Gateway to the Delta.” It was Sunday so most establishments, including the Yazoo County Convention and Visitors Bureau, were closed. We stopped to ask directions from a resident. She laughingly told us there was nothing to see in Yazoo City, referring to it as a ghost town. Luckily, there were some brochures in the lobby of the Yazoo County Convention and Visitors Bureau’s building. As we drove along the section of Main Street with the designation Historic Yazoo City District, it was clear what the resident meant. Several buildings were empty and most seemed to have limited use.

Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, MS, a stop on the MS Blues Heritage Trail.

We found the Bethel A.M.E. Church, the first church to be established in Yazoo City, and one that played a significant role in the movement. Up the hill from the church was the Oakes African-American Cultural Center housed in the former home of the Oakes family. The family’s story was one of love: John Oakes bought the freedom of his wife and her two children in 1853. Over 50 years, they transformed a one-room structure purchased in 1866 into a two-story mansion that served as the family home for 125 years.

Oakes African American Cultural Center, Yazoo City, MS.

As we drove around the town, we ended up having to make a U-turn in the yard of the Robertson family. The wife came out to assist us with directions. In our conversation, she talked about moving from the “real Delta” town of Isola, MS , 47 miles west, to Yazoo City for a better life, conceding that life was difficult here, too.

On the way back to Jackson, we saw a cotton-gin plant and stopped at the Blue Front Café. This café, in Bentonia, is on the Mississippi Blues Trail. It was closed for the day, but on the doors and walls of the were the signatures of visitors from across the globe. So, we too memorialized our visit.

Dawna and Valarie memoralize our visit to the Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, MS.

Back home at Dawna’s, we savored her seafood gumbo and packed our things in preparation for continuing our tour. Next stop, New Orleans.

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Click here to read the other posts from Jennifer’s Black History Tour.

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