Sweat and. Then I responded. Evan nany but his show is sweet. And sad. What did he know where. He. Got. It.
No singer but. God is. Always. With. Us.
Welcome back to Mississippi road. I'm your host Wahlquist.
I'm in front of the Detroit mansion in Clarksdale Mississippi about a century and a half ago. Governor all Koren's brother in law John Clarke bought 100 acres of swamp land for all intense purposes up here on the Delta. He would have had no way of knowing at that time that his namesake Barksdale would turn into the unofficial cotton capital of North Mississippi and from here would emerge a unique art form known as the blues.
But it's been said that Clarksdale has produced more major blues artists than any other place on the face of the planet. It's a matter of fact the first half of the 20th century. This was the major gathering place for all of those blues artists to come from far and wide. With a little imagination. You can still sense the music in these buildings.
Kind the music monuments that have stood the test of time.
So stay with us. We have a very interesting show for you. Now. This is Clarksdale mansion that profoundly influenced the lives of Tennessee Williams and the daughter of Clarksdale founder John Clarke continued to survive and just about 180 miles southeast of here. What made Jasper County lose its claim as the state's most powerful county.
And then what makes Highway 61 so special. Well am right along with this on Mississippi roads. You.
Just may find out. Just like W.C. Handy was influenced by the Delta I think almost every musician born in our state has been influenced by the Delta to some degree. Take Mac McAnally for instance although he was raised all well on the other side of the state over in Belmont. You can really hear a lot of the Delta influence of his music back by the way I wrote and performed our theme song for Mississippi roads and don't touch your set.
This next piece is in that new HDTV format.
Than. The small town it is my environment. The proximity of a whole lot of folks takes away my illusion that I'm intelligent.
Is music enriched with sensitivity and awareness.
When used to inspire yet another new generation. His mom still lives in Belmont. Accomplished pianist. She. First introduced me to music.
Every time there was music in which he could not be still keeping time. We had a singing at our house every Saturday. And. He. Would sing along with us. Are. The ones. He went. Meant to say. Of course he couldn't reach that age. He didn't sing. The songs. From that he just played. To my music more and more.
And hometown friends still tell stories of how Mack got started.
When Mike was 15 he was walking by here the first Baptist Church of Belmont one night and he came in and sat down at the piano. And in the time it took to play it he wrote his first song. People call me Jesus. And one of the great things about this story is at that particular time being in a small town the church wouldn't lock its doors and that was what was you know made it available for him to come in and sit down and a few years later he was at a recording session in muscle shoals recording for Hank Williams Jr. and he began singing the song one evening and some of the guys heard him and encourage Mack to continue to sing and to write songs and those songs would make up what is known as the Mac McAnally record an incredible thing is it all began right here at the first Baptist Church in Belmont.
William Faulkner once spoke of forces in the world that would try to rob us of our individuality even our very soul is still very much an individual keeps his roots deeply planted in Belmont. Max Ango.
Then to go back to the small town where I feel like I understand things the best. And that's where most of my writing comes from. I've got to I've got a little place back in the age of Alabama and Belmont that's where I come to ride.
I drive back and forth to do my other work and get the writing done. But it is it was always felt like home to me still does.
And then in reality all of the modern advancements that have happened in my hometown since since I've left there I don't see even when I go there now I drive right by to the 7-Eleven that's there and I don't see it.
It doesn't exist I'm still right there and I think 63 when he was in the 11th grade Mack made his case for a career in music to his dad who incidentally was the school vice principal.
I think he just took me in my word. I think he knew I wanted to be a musician and that's actually a rarity. But my folks wanted me to be a musician I felt like that was my fault. This no. Now I but.
Today. And that little piece of paper I get for going to school for another year is like I'm having a. Good day. And besides you're safe on my lunch money and my money. Supplies.
And clothes for me to go to school. I would go through periods of want to be a lawyer or a chemist and they would say well that's fine but we really wish you'd be a musician and you know that's what we call a kind of hope for you.
So I'm one of the few musicians that is the realization of his parents dream for you know that that doesn't happen very often.
At an age when most kids were out playing ball back playing the piano for money.
Well. This came made a presentation to my parents about wanting me to play in nightclubs and. Meet one of my parents. Never been to a nightclub so it wasn't pretty much wasn't going to happen. But he kept talking and he kept saying I'm a good Christian man. I know your son doesn't belong in a nightclub but I'm going to look after him. He's going to play with other musicians what he's got to learn how to do. And you either got to do that in church or across the famously line up there and that into the stage still and rock candy up there if you're going to play in a band. You've got to go to Tennessee to do it. We used to have to go to Tennessee to have a high school prom.
He made it just fine. When they take a break everybody else can get to me. He drank seven and they called him the seven that kid. I did end up.
This fellow hired me with my parents consent and gave me a ride every day up to them the line and we we played in these nightclubs and I was. Scared to death at the time and also. Was I'm an observant guy and I didn't notice how much it was. I only played up at that point in church. And so we're going into play in the nightclubs the Tennessee line it was. It was interesting how much exactly the same crowd it was you know in one place than the other that was for 13 year old that was interesting. I guess that's interesting still at 40 with the same crowd seem to appreciate both both sets of music.
So he's a fun loving person a music loving person and he loves playing with words and he's a caring that they came from my vantage point is because of the particular family that I fell into and that particular town that I landed in.
And the particular group of widdling old man exaggerators that I grew up amongst. Our big ingredients. And what I do. So.
I would want Mississippi to know that I'm grateful. Because. I got something. That's not available in stores.
Was the soul of a port Mac McAnally continues to earn his success.
In the pop and country music group.
We're talking to Dwight Presley Dwight is the warden over at the state penitentiary just down the road here parchment in Clarksdale right now. What do you like about Clarksdale.
Well I like Clarksdale the blues the history the potential that we have here. I served as the past president of the Chamber of Commerce last year and one of the things that I see about class is that we have a lot of potential for growth and improvement in the culture. It's interesting here the. Blues the farming and to be totally honest with you I knew very little about the blues or about agriculture prior to coming to class still and by just the delta deficit it is a great place to live and the culture here is kind of captivating.
I mean once you get a hold of it it kind of gets a hold of you.
That's correct. And the stories I hear from people that be one and read here all their lives is so interesting. You know this area that we're in right now was to Clarksdale 30 years ago. Beale Street is to Memphis and we are in the process of doing a lot of. Good things as it relates to tourism and the blues in city. And I'm glad to be a part of that.
I'm glad that you invited me to come up meet with you today to thank you.
Back at the mansion this has been one of the most controversial pieces of property in Clarksdale over the last few years. Let's find out why.
Clarksdale in the early 1900s was a vibrant and mysterious place especially for a young boy named Tom who lived with his grandfather Dakin in his early years. Young Tom was particularly interested in Blanche Clark couturier her family and their were Italian Renaissance Village. This fascination helped young Tom better known as Tennessee Williams become the greatest American playwright of the 20th century.
Contrair house is among several.
Places in Clarksdale and home canning in the delta that figure prominently in Tennessee and to work. But if there were a focal point. A place of inspiration if you will. For. Mr. Williams here.
As a young man it would have to be the contrary house. In the early forties it was sold by the traders to. St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and it was used then. As a school. The nuns who were the teachers. Lived upstairs and classes were held downstairs. Later as the school grew.
They had classroom building and then also the gymnasium.
They realized a few years ago that the school needed renovation and expansion to meet the needs of the students. The original idea was to use the house to save the culture house to renovate it.
But when the cost was determined that it would cost somewhere between a half a million and a million dollars to bring the school to bring the picture house up to code and make it usable for school space. A lot of discussion happened about. How can we justify spending that much money on mortar and bricks. It was a very. Complicated difficult decision and there are people in the parish. Who felt both ways.
Some who felt like this house should be saved something felt like no we couldn't justify spending that much money for a building.
Many ideas were proposed to help save the mansion. From an assisted living facility to a bed and breakfast. But when the church held an auction for the house and no one bid on the property there was little hope of impeding the structures demise. That was until two Clarksdale businessmen stepped into the wrecking balls path.
The bubble was persistent. He said You gotta look at this thing it's about to come down. And. That thing he wanted me to look at was the country house and he took me over there. And we walked through it.
It was an. Extraordinary structure and both of us were I think moved by the history.
Its place in the heritage of this community. And also. The fact. That this community as well as this country is so young. We have so few. Building structures objects in this particular area that speaks to our heritage and Tour history. That really struck both of us that day that we should do whatever we could do to preserve what little we do have in this regard.
That group of community leaders. Approached our foundation the State University Foundation. With an idea that they would put up through private fund raising. A certain amount of money to give to the church as earnest money to. In a sense by time to give us a year to see if the community could propose to the General Assembly and to other agencies of the state the possibility of purchasing the property for the purpose of having the state be there serving the community. And so that has been accomplished and we have agreed that we would work in partnership in this effort with the homo community college.
The church can have the can sell the property have the funds to build a new school which would be in their churches but what the state still benefit because we still have this historical site we don't have to tear it down in six minutes. Then you have the educational community there to say hey I can I can have my education here. Total degree angle into graduate studies still in this area. So it's a win win situation for the community.
Once Delta State University and Comac community college teamed up to bring an educational facility to the site. Members of the community rallied around the project with donations and support.
Just to say to be able to say that's what people were saying. But it gave them. A reason to say that about options. Versus take the papers. Or. See. Your brain. Yes that's what. Brought to you but the truth. Is you create a sense of optimism. If I may say so for tell that I have never witnessed in my life. We say we have a basis that optimism to.
Railroad tracks a kind of amazing. Let's say for instance these are the tracks that took the Mississippi blues out of the Delta to Chicago up north and then to the world. Now there's another set of tracks on the other side of the state that had an entirely different effect.
Railroads in Mississippi have had a profound influence on the state's settlement and development patterns. They have helped make places like Jackson and Meridian thriving business centers.
But in Jasper County. In the late 1800s voted against allowing the railroads to pass through town. That story is one of prosperity lost.
The population of Jasper County roughly 17000.
Few people know that prior to the rejection of the rail road by the county voters in the late 18:00 Jaffrey county may well have been on its way to becoming one of the most prosperous. Most powerful and most populated counties in the state of Mississippi.
Karl and Bill were first town befell in Jasper County in 1833.
It was prospering and had a population of several hundred. Before the vote the county rejected paying the taxes for the railroad to be built from Jackson to drive through Garling. Deal with the originally bowhead for the six thousand five of the talk talling Indian. It was the terminal French freight route from Mobile and New Orleans.
When the real rules were forced to bypass Garling bill and when instead from Jackson to Newton to Meridian and then to enterprise Golomb soon became a ghost town. This is the site of the first Catholic missionary to be built inland in Mississippi. It was initially built when Jasper kind of first established in 1833.
Its purpose was to Christianised the Choctaws that remained in the area. The missionary was later sold to a private owner and during the Depression years it served as a refuge for displaced families who had lost their homes and land.
And this was the county jail in what was once known as the queen city of.
Its. Streets were lined with mansions hotels and saloons. Its population had almost reached 1000 by the beginning of the Civil War. The Clarion-Ledger had its beginnings here as the Eastern Clarian and the founder of this now silent town won't become governor of our state.
Backward Springs was a resort town established in Jasper County around 1890 and renovated in the early 1900s. It boasted of having hot springs and tourists came from all around to bathe in them. Now like many of the small towns in Jasper County it to abandoned.
To have to wonder how thing might have been different in Jasper County if in the late 80s the railroads had been allowed to pass through the county instead of going around it.
One of my favorite delta blues man son Thomas saying his Highway 61 blues that the road was the longest you'd ever heard of running all the way from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico.
Length wise it does all of that character wise.
It's even longer coming up river out of reaching out to crosses just about every geographic historic and cultural landmark in the state before it exits 300 miles northward. And if you start down at the southern end and work your way up you traveled in the same direction the French and the Spanish traveled when they came here some 300 or so years ago up from the south up the Mississippi River. And the first time you come to his Woodhall.
The oldest anything in Mississippi is in Woodrell or used to be here may have been torn down but now it was so old. Wilkinson County Historic Society headquarters and Museum is housed in what used to be the home office of the West Feliciana railroad. The first standard gauge railroad west of the Appalachians the old territorial bank building still standing here. It's gone through many reincarnations since it was the territorial bank.
The churches in Woodville pretty much like claim with a few exceptions to being the oldest of their particular brand in the state if not the entire Mississippi Valley and the oak trees on the courthouse lawn rooted deep with branches so long that they arched down and touched the ground and then spring back skyward again.
The mass that the southern part of Highway 61 runs through was the lowest bluffs of Mississippi. Big hills of topsoil tall with deep gullies and grand views across river bottoms like this one of the bluffs that make up the ridge line on the other side of the street.
And all up the road is Naches Antebellum Lady of the nation. But one of the oddest sites on Highway 61 is one of the first things you run across on your way into Natchez coming up from the south. This is mammy's cupboard. It was built here in the early 1940s shortly after highway's got good enough to get you from place to place around the nation. Things like this were built everywhere.
Cupboard is in that class of architecture whose shape somehow suggest its function like the dairy in Ohio. I believe it is shaped like a milk can and diners shaped to look like hotdogs and on and on.
This restaurant is shaped like the stereotypical southern cook. And it's one of the longtime landmarks of Highway 61.
Of course there are all sorts of landmarks up and down the highway like port Gibsons churches crowned by the Presbyterian Church with the heaven pointing finger and then the dinosaurs that guard the bend in the road of the Delta at Egremont.
Wesley Bo-Bo fabricated these from castaway cotton gin parts. He's a wonder at seeing what's trapped inside the things that you and I can see no further use for it all.
Now so far our roadway has crossed colonial in pre-Civil War history. But before we get too far.
Away 61 even touches on prehistoric Mississippi. Here's the grand village of the Naches Indians the Naches tribe was still using this mound Siteman the first Europeans came here and if the French and wiped them out we might have learned a lot about the earlier mound builders from the last mound users. But genocide wasn't as big a deal then as it is now and besides the French are only getting back at the Native Americans for what they have done to the populace of the fringes. Fort St. Peter which was built on the bluffs overlooking the zoo river. Coincidentally just off present day Highway 61 at Redwood at Vicksburg we crossed paths with the Civil War where General Grant. The boys fought with the future roadway would run a stone's throw away is where the old south ended with the fall of Vicksburg and the dividing of the Confederacy and with dividing the nation the end was just as inevitable as any living thing done so to Vicksburg.
Highway 61 dives down into the delta. A whole nother place flat for the next two hundred miles and dusty.
Dedicated to making cotton six days a week and dedicated to the Lord on Sunday.
Which leaves Saturday nights free free to invent and perfect the true American art form the blues. The music become so introspective and self analyzing and so self aware that it even has magazines and festivals celebrated spiffy signs that markets landmarks.
But the Blues are still raw enough in the delta that is played best in places you don't want to go to by yourself.
There are ancient landmarks along the highway in the Delta too like deer Creek which would have been the equivalent of the roadway for those countless millennia when the best way to get around was a dug out canoe and other less ancient landmarks like Valley Park where former speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives buddy Newman was rescued about a mile of old railroad from being ripped up and hauled away like so many thousands of miles in Mississippi track has been. But he has a few older cars that as he told me one time he and the other children of Valley Park liked to crank ride on from time to time and just up the road it onward is where President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a tethered bear while on a Delta bearhug. Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century the cartoon of the incident gave New York toy maker an idea and that idea gave the rest of us our teddy bears. All from the Delta ride along Highway 61.
And by the time you make it all the way to the other end of Mississippi section of Highway 61 the road way is very busy with all sorts of Cosmopolitan motorists zipping into and out of Memphis probably unaware of what they're traveling on is a sort of a mix between a magic carpet that takes you from the present to the past and back in a single day and hallowed ground.
And it's about the longest road I ever heard.
This is the oh Clarksdale train station it was built back in 1926 and it was from here that so many of the Delta blues men left from as they took off to go to Chicago in the 20s and 30s and 40s even on up into the 50s to try to find their fame and fortune. And since this was their jumping off place we thought this would be awfully appropriate spot for us to wrap up our visit to Clarksdale. So I want Gricean inviting you to join us next time.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Mississippi Roads
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- This episode focuses on sites in Taylorsville, Mississippi. Host Walter Grayson talks about musician Mac McAnally and his inspirations that stem from Mississippi. Grayson also tours the Cutrer Mansion and its connection to playwright Tennessee Williams. The Cutrer Mansion has passed through several hands and became a historic preservation project after it needed to be renovated. The host then discusses the Mississippi railroads and how they have shaped Mississippi towns, specifically Jasper County, which voted to not have railroad tracks cut through towns. Lastly, the host tours structures in Wilkinson County, that contains the oldest buildings in Mississippi.
- Mississippi Roads is a magazine showcasing Mississippi's unique landmarks, culture, and history.
- Copyright MAET 1999
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- MLA: “Mississippi Roads.” Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-7312jthk>.
- APA: Mississippi Roads. Boston, MA: Mississippi Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_60-7312jthk