32 years ago I came to the Mississippi Delta to see the house where my mother lived and the final resting place of my grandfather. The journey back shows how very little has change in a part of the country with such a rich and horrid history.
Venturing through the town you try to imagine life from days gone by. You envision the train pulling into the station passengers unloading and the cars moving that great commodity-cotton-to some other destination. As you look around you wondered what happened to this town surrounded by cotton fields and catfish
Leaving Itta Bena, you quickly see the openness of the state, as you travel down the road you see that big industry is working in the background. Be it the cotton fields or the catfish farms this is still a land of plenty and its product reaches well beyond the forgotten towns you quickly pass.
As a child I recall hearing the tales of living in Mississippi from my mother and her siblings. Being born and raised in the city, I had no clue of what this meant. When we needed eggs, milk, or chicken my mother went to the grocery store. As a child, when her parents needed these items, they simply went out back to get them. Anytime we heard talk of them growing up, one name sticks in my mind. Joe Pugh.
Pugh City. Today no bigger than the blink of an eye and perhaps as look at these images is nothing more than a fading memory of a place long gone. The above image on the right shows what was left of the city in 1982 and the background shows what's left. The image below, taken in 1982 shows the home my mother grew up in and the family that had been in that home since my grandparents had left it some 40+ years ago.
Not much has changed here in the Delta. The once thriving Mom and Pop stores long since abandoned are being over taken by vegetation or simply falling apart over time. Those small farms have been replaced by airports designed for crop dusting, yet there are still some surprises to be found here.
Making my way to Greenwood, another town I had heard of through my relatives, this little town is known to have the most concentration of buildings associated with the marketing of cotton along with the states post Civil War cotton boom. This little town is home to the Viking cooking school-a company known
for its professional cooking appliances and culinary specialties.
A quick walking tour around the area shows it's a town still divided though there wasn't the sense of hatred from the past and of the people I talked with spoke about the progress being made. Yet when I crossed the tracks, it was a different world. The smell of fried catfish filled the air, with the hint of BBQ being grilled nearby. The buildings were dilapidated and poverty seemed to prevail but still, the people were rich in spirit and kindness.
My journey to the Delta was to helped gain a sense of understanding. Understanding of the time and era in which my mother grew up and to see how very different life is today. Down in the Delta, not much has changed. The tracks are still the great divide, and you must venture off the beaten path to stumble upon the "colored" graveyard which is where my ancestors lay. Here the headstone of my uncle rests just a few feet from his father, Dennis Bevel Sr, these are but a few of the remaining tombstones that are recognizable. The cemetery is buried between a plowed fields and a small creek and barely hanging on to life itself. With time, it too will be completely forgotten about and ultimately absorbed into the land.