By Anne McKee
The Meridian Star
Yes, as you read my column on Friday morning, I am tootling along in Greenville. Now, that’s not Greenville, N.C. or even Greenville, Tenn., but Greenville, Miss., located in the richness of the Mississippi Delta.
Ah, Greenville – known as the heart and soul of the Mississippi Delta, birthplace of William Alexander Percy, lawyer and poet. Also, Mary Wilson, singer of The Supremes, Jim Henson, puppeteer, Eden Brent, blues boogie-woogie musician, and my personal favorite, Shelby Foote, author and historian, among several additional notables.
Greenville is also home to the Delta Democrat Times which was once managed by Hodding Carter, Pulitzer Prize recipient. The same Mr. Carter who accompanied President Theodore Roosevelt on a bear hunt in Sharkey County, Mississippi – out of the hunt was born the legend of the teddy bear.
Greenville’s history oozes survivorship – fire, fever, and floods could not take it down. Prior to the time of the Civil War, the hamlet thrived and had formed business and cultural centers surrounded by large cotton plantations. The town was destroyed by the siege of Vicksburg – a Yankee gunboat landed and eventually burned every building. As throughout the South, when the war ended, Mississippians found their homes destroyed and families scattered.
Yet, the heart and soul of the Mississippi Delta – Greenville — moved forward. Disaster once again visited the town in 1877 with the tragic yellow fever epidemic, yet the town once again prevailed and moved forward, only to be met by the floods of 1890 and 1927.
Today, Greenville is home to a large Mississippi River port, agriculture and industry revived as well and the ultimate rewards gained crowned the city in the form of fine schools, art centers, libraries, outstanding newspaper and publications, Little Theatre, Choral Society and Symphony League, plus many exciting arts endeavors accomplished each year.
Benjy Nelken, a Greenville writer, said, “Any town large or small should be judged by the distinction of its citizens, and throughout Greenville’s history, it is the quality of those folks then and now that is the measure of this town’s worth. It is our good folks that have established one of the largest Rotary Clubs in the state. The Junior Auxiliary has for over 60 years offered help and relief to the underprivileged. … We have the Main Street organization and Visitors Bureau that faithfully promotes our area.”
Hmm, almost identical to Meridian – methinks.
I must mention Greenville’s colorful Nelson Street – Mississippi’s version of Beale Street. It was lined with blues clubs and was discovered by record producers “in the day.” Thus, today on Nelson Street, now known as Walnut Street, there stands proudly a grand announcement – Mississippi Blues Trail. The distinctive honor of joining the Mississippi Blues Trail was earned by such greats as Bruce Blackmon, Bud Cockrell, Abie Ames, Benjamin Wright, Booba Barnes and many whose names have been lost to history.
Greenville is also the home to the Mississippi Delta Blues & Heritage Festival celebrated each September. The 36th Annual 2013 Festival is Sept. 21. The grand event acknowledges the people who gave the world “The Blues.” It’s an art form that is honored on an international level.
Greenville is home for writers, artists, blues singers and composers. Greenvillians experienced a lifestyle of deep feelings and longings that nourished creativity in every arts category. The mighty river, cotton fields, natural talent of singers and musicians – all important elements.
My trip to Greenville is an invitation to the Greenville Arts Council. The council is a nonprofit 501©(3) – a public/private partnership with the city of Greenville and the Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Their mission is to provide the rich cultural heritage of the region and stimulate and encourage cultural activities, arts appreciation, arts education and the creative works of artists.
The council is a primary promoter of the arts in the Greenville area offering art classes to children and adults, organize community events, present free traveling exhibits, feature work of visual artists, coordinate educational programs and teach arts-integration methods to the local schools.
As you may have noticed by my words today, Greenville is a flourishing and creative community – working through their longstanding heritage, a community who is truly uplifting and benefiting from the culture of the region and an amazing center celebrating a successful creative economy.
As former Gov. Haley Barbour said, “Don’t sit on your assets.” Greenville, as the entire State of Mississippi, enjoys great economic potential and present day successes by “not sitting on their creative assets.”
Why have I gone to Greenville? The arts council asked me to come and teach area public school teachers my art forms that benefit an arts-integrated curriculum, plus common core elements. But, I think I am here to learn.
Anne McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website at www.annemckee.net.