Day 2: The Delta's Diversity Immigration, RELIGION, AND Music

During the second day of the workshop, participants developed a sense of diversity that transcends black and white...

...and explored the religious and cultural roots of the blues and early rock music.

The day began with a journey to Greenville, MS, a former commercial and cultural hub with a declining population. On the bus, participants watched a documentary following the Delta Jews. While the story of Jewish Mississippians is seldom told, they were among the diverse peoples to settle the region in the twentieth century.

In Greenville, Raymond Wong boarded the traveling classroom to share his experience as one of the few remaining Chinese Americans in the Delta. The discussion ranged from the social to the personal as Raymond described not only the complex status of Asian Americans in a largely black-and-white culture, but also his own family, health, and career. Like many Chinese Americans living in the Delta, Raymond's parents were grocers and eventually restaurateurs. Their children have scattered across America. Meanwhile, Raymond pursued a career in broadcast journalism here in the Delta and contributed to Delta State's Chinese Heritage Museum, which was featured by NPR this spring.

Participants then accompanied Raymond to Greenville's Chinese Cemetery, where members of his family were buried.

Follow Anne Nolting as she explores the cemetery in the video below:

Across the street from the Chinese Cemetery is Greenville's black cemetery, the final resting place of Holt Collier. Born a slave, Collier served in the Confederate Army and later became a famous sportsman. While leading Teddy Roosevelt in a hunt, he tied a bear to a tree. The president refused to shoot the helpless bear, earning himself a reputation for compassion and giving the "teddy bear" its name.

At the historic Hebrew Union Temple, the group learned more about the space Delta Jews occupy in the region's history and culture. Temple Vice President Benji Nelken explained the general principles of Reformed Judaism, then delved into the reality of being a southern Jew. The discussion spurred questions of identity -- white, southern, Jewish -- not only for Benji, but also for the participants themselves. In the video below, participant Les Kohn discusses how the visit relates to his own perspective on Judaism.

The group reflected on the discussion in the synagogue's museum, which houses items ranging from a Holocaust Torah to signs reading "Shalom Y'all."

Listen to participant Rebecca DiBrienza discuss how her experience at the temple will affect her teaching below:

Adjacent to the temple, participants wandered through a museum documenting the 1927 flood. The exhibit covered the science behind the levee breach, while newspaper clippings, historical artifacts, and quotes from survivors added a human element to the disaster.

The group also had the opportunity to stop by the Greenville History Museum, which documents the everyday lives of the city's residents.

Guest scholar Dr. Charles Wilson spoke to the workshop after lunch, teaching about the historically diverse religious factions found within the Delta.

He also discussed how the strong tradition of oral expression found in the South influenced the church, musicians, and even southern politicians.

The lecture shed light on everything from church fans as a form of advertising to modern day politics and the relationship between religion and different political agendas.

The day finished with country blues musician Bill Abel, who discussed the history of blues music and performed in a variety of styles, covering selections by artists like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.

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