The morning began with a trip to Dockery Farms, a typical Delta plantation that once spread across forty square miles. At its peak, Dockery was a bustling hub complete with its own post office and train station. Sharecroppers and hourly laborers worked side-by-side, producing not only cotton, but also a unique musical style. As the home of Charley Patton, Dockery can be considered the birthplace of the blues: a genre that revolutionized American music.
In the video below, Thomas Alzo of Canton, NY discusses how his visit to Dockery enhances his own appreciation of the blues:
On the bus, participants learned the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist from Ruleville. When Hamer attempted to exercise her right to vote, the manager of the plantation where she worked and lived fired and evicted her. She devoted the rest of her life to the civil rights movement, playing a central role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
The group disembarked at the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden, her final resting place. Visiting the gravesite was an emotional experience for those inspired by Hamer's peaceful activism.
Throughout the day, Dr. Edgar Smith and Mrs. Inez Smith offered a personal take on the people and places discussed. After a childhood spent picking cotton in the Delta, Dr. Smith attended college and graduate school, eventually becoming a biochemist. The couple counted both B.B. King and Fannie Lou Hamer among their friends, and they shared firsthand experiences - from a letter written by Fannie Lou Hamer to their contributions to the B.B. King Museum - with the group.
Dr. Smith accompanied the participants to the B.B. King Museum, where he once served on the board of directors. The experience began with a film documenting the blues legend's life, then continued with an exhibit that connected B.B.'s art and background to the social and cultural conditions that characterized the Delta as a whole.
Experience the museum with workshop participant Carol Dixon of Fort Lauderdale, Florida:
The day concluded with a lecture by Dr. David Evans from the University of Memphis. He integrated speech and music to narrate the evolution of the blues. As an ethnomusicologist, Dr. Evans contextualizes this history through the economic and social trends of the day.
Halfway through the lecture, the group took a break to share hot tamales, the taste of the day.