A Delta Weekend, Part II
I’ll just go down here, ...stay over there...
The Mississippi Delta, the flat, lush land of big farms and epic floods, has a way of taking you in and not letting go. A thousand years of culture and civilizations, some not so civilized, the place a good bit of American music originates from, and some mysteries wait for you there.
The Phelps family struggles to preserve Nitta Yuma, ghost of a plantation town. Greenville just struggles. They are both home to some great people, both are visibly faded (ruined?) and their histories parallel as plantation and hub city. They were explored and founded around the same time - early 1800’s - and both suffered tragedy to scale. Major Burwell Vick told his Choctaw guide he was looking for some high ground to farm. The story goes that when they got out of the boat onto the banks of Deer Creek his guide spotted bear tracks in the mud - and the Native phrase became a plantation - thankful it was bear tracks or trail and not bear scat.
Greenville was founded and named after Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene, originally from my childhood home state of Rhode Island, but the man who engineered victories in the South which led to the siege at Yorktown and died broke in Georgia. They made him pay for his supplies and he was swindled by a contractor - and left out in the heat (and cold at Valley Forge) by Congress. I have followed his life story from his wartime home in Rhode Island to Savannah Georgia where he is buried in Johnson Square. I don’t know if it would fit with his Quaker beliefs, but I’m sure he smiled when they named the county seat of (George) Washington County for him. He was Washington’s friend and right hand, sent to watch over West Point after Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and to take back the South when the political General (Horatio Gates) fled a disastrous battle at Camden South Carolina.
I wish I had gotten to Nitta Yuma AND Greenville earlier on Saturday, but with a more involved - and amazing - ceremony for Bo Carter than I expected, I had time to grab a few photos of the old plantation town and spent an hour or so walking around the old part of Greenville after church on Sunday. I spoke a little of the family tragedy in Part I and will not repeat the history of slavery here. One thing that must be repeated, I think, is the great American cultural debt we owe these involuntary immigrants, who have contributed as much if not more than our voluntary immigrant forebears. Greenville, as a plantation hub, also made contributions. It was strategically important enough for Union troops to conquer and burn during the Civil War campaign against the city Nitta Yuma founder’s brother Newit helped build. Yup, “bear tracks” Nitta Yuma has ties to Vicksburg. So the city named for a Northern native burned, but was rebuilt. It’s contributions to music played and/or lived here - Louis Jordan, Sonny Boy Williamson II, T-Model Ford, Oliver Sain (grandson of Beale Street Sheik Dan Sane), and Little Milton - on Nelson Street, which looked, um, rough - a bygone cultural hub in a forgotten city named for a forsaken hero.
Little Milton - 'Walking the Backstreets and Crying"