About this time last year, I was feeling a bit cooped up and landlocked in Nashville, where I had just moved in September. It was a big change to go from two years in Iceland and Denmark to life in Tennessee. While feeling a bit sorry for myself, I happened to see on Facebook that an old friend from undergrad in Maryland was living in Clarksdale, Mississippi. After some quick calculations, I realized it was only a four or five hour drive away. I asked if I could come stay for the weekend, and all of a sudden my eyes were opened to all the interesting places you can get to from Nashville in under six hours.
Clarksdale, Mississippi is a small city in the northwestern part of the state. It’s the seat of a country bordering the Mississippi River, and you can reach Memphis in about an hour and a half. It’s great claim to fame is as the hometown of many great names from the Delta Blues tradition. In fact, it is at a crossroads in Clarksdale where legend says Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in return for the Blues. If you aren’t up to snuff with your blues history, you may still be familiar with a version of this story told in O Brother Where Art Thou, where they pick up “Tommy Johnson” at a crossroads in Mississippi.
I arrived late on Friday night, and we headed down to the main street where there was a cool place to pizza and some local beer. Saturday, we drove down to Glendora, where Emmett Till was murdered in 1955. There we visited the Emmett Till Historic Intrepid Center (ETHIC), where the Mayor of Glendora (population 285) runs a small museum dedicated to understanding and healing through knowledge of the horrible events surround the young boy’s death. It was rainy and somber that day we drove down to the Center then back up to Memphis to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at Lorraine Motel. More on that when I post the pictures of the site. But on Sunday, it was sunny and bright. The streets were completely empty as we wandered around the downtown area. The only exception was singing coming from the little town churches.
The beautiful Americana downtown had clearly seen better days, but there was still some life left and hopeful pockets of renovation. Every year, Clarksdale hosts the Juke Joint Festival, bringing crowd of blues fans to the city to enjoy the music and culture of the Mississippi Delta. This and some blues tourism seems enough to keep the doors open on music shops and other creative small businesses.
If you like celebrity happenings, you may be interested to know that Morgan Freeman, Memphis native and current resident of nearby Charleston, Mississippi, co-owns a blues club in Clarksdale called Ground Zero (as in ground zero for blues). It’s pictured below.
[35mm shot with my Canon EOS Rebel 2000. Click here for more pictures of my travels in the US.]
And don’t forget to check out my podcast about museums and travel, Museums in Strange Places, available on Apple Podcasts and wherever else you get your podcast fix.