Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership to host final program at Smith Robertson Museum

photos by Bobby Steele, JR, Will Jacks, Dr. Rolando Herts and Alysia Steele


The Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership is hosting its final program at the Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson on Thursday, December 15, at 6pm. The event is free and open to the public through support from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center.

"We are honored to host the final Delta Jewels program," said Pamela Junior, director of the Smith Robertson Museum and MDNHA board member. "This partnership has meant so much to the Mississippi Delta region, the state, and our nation. In addition to great speakers and special guests, we plan to feature live performances. This will be an exciting cultural celebration for our entire community to enjoy during the holiday season."

Since March 2015, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning have engaged communities through the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership. The program features Alysia Burton Steele's book Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom, a collection of oral histories and portraits of African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta. The program has engaged over 1,000 residents and visitors in the Mississippi Delta, the state of Mississippi, and Washington, DC.

"The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is about educating and engaging people, connecting organizations, and building community pride by telling the Delta's story," said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center. "The Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership Program has accomplished this by fostering collaboration among numerous people and organizations. We have effectively raised awareness about the importance of preserving community voices and stories through oral history gathering, storytelling, and photography."

"It has been such a pleasure and an honor to partner with the Mississippi Delta Heritage Area and The Delta Center on this educational project," said Steele. "On behalf of all of the Delta Jewels, thanks to these partners and all sponsoring organizations that have made these events so educational, so impactful, and so meaningful for so many people. Words cannot express our appreciation."

Through The Delta Center, Steele first presented Delta Jewels sessions at Delta State University’s Winning the Race diversity and race relations conference in 2015. A month later, the MDNHA and The Delta Center partnered with various regional organizations to host a series of Delta Jewels Community Gatherings in Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville, and Mound Bayou. The Mound Bayou program was held in conjunction with the town’s 128th Founders Day celebration and witnessed a gathering of 30 Delta Jewels church mothers. Over 300 guests attended the Mound Bayou program.

Hundreds gathered at Mound Bayou’s Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

Hundreds gathered at Mound Bayou’s Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

"The importance of this work truly came to life for me when I attended the Mound Bayou Program to meet the real Delta Jewels," said Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Chair of the MDNHA.  "This remarkable group of strong women inspired me and others with their wisdom and humor.  What an honor to be in their presence and hear their stories.  I am happy the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area could play a part in promoting and celebrating their legacy.

Continued demand for the events led to the official creation of the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership in October 2015. Through the new partnership, events were held at Mississippi Valley State University, Jackson State University, Delta State University, Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation in Vicksburg, Alcorn State University, University of Southern Mississippi, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland, and Holmes Community College in Grenada.

Alysia Burton Steele and Dr. Herts speak with Mrs. Campbell and guests before the Delta Jewels program begins at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

Alysia Burton Steele and Dr. Herts speak with Mrs. Campbell and guests before the Delta Jewels program begins at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. (Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution)

The Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership culminated in March 2016 with an historic presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC., to commemorate Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial. This special program featured Mrs. Annyce P. Campbell of Mound Bayou, who appears on the front cover of Delta Jewels, and Reena Evers, daughter of Civil Rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, who also is a Delta Jewel.

For more information about the December 15 Delta Jewels program, contact the Pamela Junior or Charisse Bester at the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center at (601) 960-1457.

MDNHA, International Delta Blues Project, GRAMMY team up for stellar film and music event

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently collaborated with The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the International Delta Blues Project at Delta State University to present an “edu-taining” night of film and live music at GRAMMY Museum Mississippi in Cleveland. This incredible "sold out" event was free and open to the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area region through generous support from the International Delta Blues Project.

On Wednesday, October 12, film shorts created by students from Delta Hands for Hope of Shaw, MS, and the Rosedale Freedom Project of Rosedale, MS, were shown as part of a public screening of the award-winning documentary, “Take Me To the River.” The students attended after-school workshops learning film and oral history skills through a grant from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The students interviewed and photographed Mississippi Delta residents to learn how music has influenced the community and has shaped local culture. 

The standing-room-only crowd of 150 guests from throughout the region also watched a 45-minute version of the full-length documentary “Take Me to the River,” produced by Martin Shore and created at historic Royal Studios in Memphis. The film brings multiple generations of award-winning Memphis and Mississippi Delta musicians together, following them through the creative process of recording an historic new album.  “Take Me To The River” features Terrence Howard, William Bell, Snoop Dog, Mavis Staples, Otis Clay, Lil P-Nut, Charlie Musselwhite, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Yo Gotti, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, The North Mississippi Allstars and many more.

After viewing “Take Me to the River” and the student documentaries, the crowd enjoyed live performances from The Hi Rhythm section (featuring Charles and Leroy Hodges), Stax Music Academy Alumni Band, William Bell, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, and GRAMMY winner Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, owner of Royal Studios.

Unita Blackwell marker added to Mississippi Freedom Trail.

Congressman Bennie Thompson (left to right), Mayersville mayor Linda Short, Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and Dr. Leslie McLemore, chair of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force, stand in front of the newly unveiled Unita Blackwell marker.

Congressman Bennie Thompson (left to right), Mayersville mayor Linda Short, Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, and Dr. Leslie McLemore, chair of the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force, stand in front of the newly unveiled Unita Blackwell marker.

The Issaquena County town of Mayersville recently honored one of it’s bravest citizens, former mayor Unita Blackwell, with a Mississippi Freedom Trail marker dedicated to her.

The marker was unveiled during a ceremony that attracted a gathering of local residents, as well as regional, statewide, and national leaders at the Mayersville Multi Purpose Building. Blackwell was the first female African-American elected mayor in Mississippi.

In addition to serving as mayor for 27 years, Blackwell was active in the Civil Rights Movement, Head Start and the Democratic Party for nearly five decades. In 1993, she was awarded a Genius Grant as a MacArthur Fellow. Since 1973, she has been a part of 16 diplomatic missions to China.

JoAnne Prichard Morris shares thoughts about Unita Blackwell.

“The notion is that somebody from very, very humble beginnings cannot only rise to be the mayor of her community, but to take delegations all over the world as a goodwill ambassador, to work for childcare, work for better education, is a statement that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re going,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson, U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 2nd Congressional District.

Blackwell was born in Lula, Mississippi in 1933. Her parents Virda Mae and Willie Brown were sharecroppers. She married Jeremiah Blackwell in 1958, and in 1960, they moved into a shotgun house in Mayersville inherited from Jeremiah’s grandmother. It was here that Blackwell became involved in politics, civil rights and a life of building a stronger community for all.

“She just kept on going and learning and experiencing new things,” said JoAnne Prichard Morris, who assisted Blackwell in writing her autobiography “Barefootin’: Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom.” “She was quite simply the most courageous, most creative, most inspiring, smartest, funniest person I’ve ever known.”

An attendee looks at a brochure illustrating the locations of more than 30 Freedom Trail markers.

The Mississippi Freedom Trail was created in 2011 to commemorate the people and places in the state that played a pivotal role in the American Civil Rights Movement. The first Freedom Trail markers were unveiled in conjunction with the Mississippi Freedom 50th Foundation’s 2011 reunion activities for the 1961 Freedom Riders. The Blackwell marker is the 22nd placed in the state, and was supported in part by partnership development funds from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in conjunction with support from Visit Mississippi, the Town of Mayersville and Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership.

“The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is about telling significant stories here in our region, and the story of Unita Blackwell truly is a significant story,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, Director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, the management entity for the MDNHA. “The fact that the MDNHA could support this marker being installed here for ages to come so that the people of Mayersville – particularly the youth – can learn about her story and her legacy, truly is a great asset to the community and to our region.”

Click the image above to view all the photos from the ceremony

Click the image above to view all the photos from the ceremony

learn more by watching the videos above

Valley to Present 2nd Annual B.B. King Day

Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) will play host to some of the South’s largest names in Blues during its B.B. King Day celebration on September 1.

The event is open to the public, and will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the W.A. Butts Social Science Building on the Itta Bena campus. 

The event will wrap up with evening performances at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Miss. beginning at 7 p.m.

MVSU has the only recording studio in the nation bearing the name of the late musician B.B. King.

B.B. King Day will feature stimulating forum discussions, performances and showcases. 

“During the discussions, panelist will expound upon the influence of Blues on the history of Jazz,” said Dr. Alphonso Sanders, chair of the Department of Fine Arts and director of the B.B. King Recording Studio.  “If you mention jazz to most people, they automatically think of Kenny G.”

There will also be a discussion about the struggle of ownership for African American music. “The panelist are African American voices who will speak on African American Music History,” added Sanders. 

“These are prominent musicians who spent their lives doing this.” Charlton Johnson, former member of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s band, will play Lucille.

Otis Clay’s gospel hit, “When the Gates Swing Open,” will be performed by Tia Carroll, Rochelle Coba, Teeny Tucker and Vickie Baker.

There will also be a special tribute to Melvin Jackson and a showcase by Denise Lasalle.

Other guests will include George Shaw, Morris Hubbard, John Birdsong, Bo Berry, London Branch, Burgess Gardner, Sherrill Holley, Joe Jennings, Dr. James Johnson, Dick Griffin, Jimmi Mayes, Willie Silas, Ray Neal, Jesse Robinson and Reggie Richards.

The entire event will be broadcast live by the Kevin and Sue McCarthy’s Travel Planners Radio Show.

B.B. King Day is hosted by MVSU’s B.B. King Recording Studio in partnership with the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

For more information about B.B. King Day at MVSU, contact Dr. Alphonso Sanders at asanders@mvsu.edu.

MDNHA awards $160,000 in regional grants

Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Chair of the Board of Directors, and Dr. Rolando Herts, Director, (standing, center) with representatives from organizations awarded cultural heritage development grants from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Chair of the Board of Directors, and Dr. Rolando Herts, Director, (standing, center) with representatives from organizations awarded cultural heritage development grants from the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently announced nearly $160,000 in grants for eleven cultural heritage development projects in the Mississippi Delta.

The projects represent the diversity of the region’s rich cultural heritage including Native and African American history, music, art, storytelling, the Delta Chinese, and the Mississippi River.

“The grants committee was impressed with the projects proposed through the application process,” said Dr. Myrtis Tabb, Chair of the MDNHA Board of Directors. “Organizations and agencies are doing outstanding community service, and the MDNHA is pleased to provide funding to support this work.”

“The MDNHA is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service designed to engage and empower organizations and individuals to promote the cultural heritage of the region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, which serves as the management entity for the MDNHA. “The successful completion of this first round of grants represents a major milestone as the MDNHA continues to do this work throughout the Mississippi Delta.”

This is the first round of grants awarded by the MDNHA. In January of this year, the MDNHA launched the new grants program and provided a series of workshops throughout the region to educate and inform the people of the Mississippi Delta on how to apply. Workshops were held at Clarksdale/Coahoma County Tourism, Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Sharkey-Issaquena County Library in Rolling Fork, The Capps Center in Indianola, and Desoto County Tourism in Southaven.

Proposals received were reviewed by a grants committee comprised of members of the MDNHA Board of Directors. The eleven organizations and projects that were awarded MDNHA grants represent six of the 18 counties served by the MDNHA including Bolivar, Coahoma, DeSoto, Leflore, Sharkey, and Warren. The grant recipients and funded projects are as follows:

ArtPlace Mississippi, Greenwood, MS
Delta Wild: Connecting people to the Mississippi Delta’s natural habitat and resources

DeSoto Foundation, Hernando, MS
First Contact Historical Trail: Native Americans’ first encounter with Europeans in the Mississippi Delta

Cleveland Music Foundation, Cleveland, MS
Exploring a Culture of Creativity: Engaging students in telling local stories through music at Grammy Museum Mississippi

Lower Mississippi River Foundation, Clarksdale, MS
Between the Levees: Telling the story of the Mississippi River batture

Bologna Performing Arts Center, Cleveland, MS
Public performance of “Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till”

Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland, MS
Cleveland Chamber/Tourism office relocation and signage plan

Delta State University Archives and Museums, Cleveland, MS
Amzie Moore House Museum and MS Delta Chinese Heritage Museum docent program

Rolling Fork Visitors Center and Museum, Rolling Fork, MS
Multimedia interpretive display expansion and exhibit preservation

Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, Vicksburg, MS
1868 St. Francis Xavier Convent restoration

Delta Hands for Hope, Shaw, MS
Photography and Oral History Program for high school students

Rosedale Freedom Project, Rosedale, MS
Unsung Voices of Bolivar County: civil rights stories past and present collected by high school students

The MDNHA recently held a second grant competition round with proposals due on July 5. Proposals are under review currently. The MDNHA expects to announce grant awardees for the second round in fall 2016.

“The grant program is a critical part of the MDNHA’s Management Plan. We look forward to the program continuing in the future and look forward to receiving more proposals from organizations that are serving the Mississippi Delta region,” said Herts.

Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area promotes region’s cultural heritage

Members of the 2016 MDNHA Board of Directors and staff

Members of the 2016 MDNHA Board of Directors and staff

The Board of Directors for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area recently held its May meeting at Delta Council headquarters in Stoneville, Mississippi. The board, chaired by Dr. Myrtis Tabb, welcomed new board members and discussed various partnership opportunities that will continue to promote the Mississippi Delta’s rich cultural heritage.

“I am pleased to work with the Board of Directors of MDNHA,” said Dr. Tabb. “We are excited to welcome our new members and continue moving into the implementation phase of a comprehensive management plan developed by a thorough process of meetings with groups and stakeholders throughout the region. Our goal is to empower as many voices as possible so that the story of the Delta is told by a chorus, rather than a few.”

The 15-member board includes representatives from Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State and Delta State University, as well as the Delta Foundation, Smith Robertson Museum, Delta Council, Mississippi Arts Commission, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and Mississippi Humanities Council. In addition, the governor and counties falling within five Delta districts appoint representatives to the board.

“Our board and our staff continue to work together, building the Mississippi Delta’s capacity to fulfill the MDNHA’s management plan through diverse partnerships,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, which serves as the management entity for the MDNHA. “Regional initiatives like the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership, the Passport to Your National Parks Program, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi’s ‘Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta’ website, and the MDNHA Grants Program represent creative and inclusive ways that we are fulfilling the plan.”

In November 2015, Herts was invited to represent the MDNHA and The Delta Center in a panel discussion at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2015 PastForward Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference launched a year-long celebration of the National Historic Preservation Act’s 50th anniversary, attracting hundreds of historic preservation scholars, policymakers, experts and activists from around the nation. The panel discussion was part of the preservationVOICES Learning Lab presentation track organized by the National Trust in partnership with the National Park Service and the Kellogg Foundation. The session, “Recognizing Our Shared History,” focused on how the National Park Service works to tell inclusive stories of all Americans.

In keeping with the PastForward Conference presentation, the MDNHA manages the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership. The partnership has engaged over 800 Mississippi Delta residents and visitors through programs that raise awareness about the educational and cultural value of capturing community stories. The programs are offered to Mississippi organizations and communities in collaboration with Alysia Burton Steele, University of Mississippi journalism professor and author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” Oral history presentations about the book have been held in several MDNHA communities including Clarksdale, Charleston, Indianola, Yazoo City, Ruleville, Mound Bayou, Cleveland, Vicksburg and Itta Bena. Programs also have been held outside the MDNHA at Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

In March 2016, to commemorate Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial, the Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership presented at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. The program featured 92-year-old Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, who graces the cover of “Delta Jewels,” and Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights icons Medgar Evers and Myrlie Evers-Williams. Campbell also visited the White House.

The MDNHA manages the Passport to Your National Parks program which features passport stations in each of the region’s 18 counties. The Delta Center serves as the program headquarters, welcoming passport collectors traveling the region and directing them to passport locations throughout the MDNHA, including the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Sunflower County, tourism visitor centers in Coahoma, Tunica, Yazoo and Warren counties, and courthouses in Carroll, Holmes, Quitman, Sharkey, Tallahatchie and Tate counties.

Members of the National Park Travelers Club have toured the MDNHA collecting National Park Service passport stamps as a way to celebrate the 2016 National Park Service Centennial.

“We would not have known about all of the interesting places to visit in the Delta had it not been for this program,” said Leland Warzala, a club member from Illinois. “We knew that we had to visit all of the counties here, because we wanted to get all of the stamps. We had no idea that there are so many great things to see and do along the way, like the Crossroads sign [in Clarksdale], Dockery Farms and all of the Blues Trail markers.”

GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi opened its doors to the region, the nation, and the world this year. As part of the grand opening celebration, the museum partnered with the MDNHA to launch the “Top 40 Places to Visit in the Mississippi Delta” website.

The website features cultural heritage attractions throughout the Mississippi Delta that tell the region’s diverse stories. The site underscores the museum and MDNHA’s shared interest in promoting the entire 18-county Mississippi Delta region as an educational cultural heritage destination of which its residents should be proud.

“As GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, we explore and celebrate the enduring legacies of all forms of music, and we’re also telling the story of the cradle of America’s music right here in Cleveland, the heart of the Mississippi Delta,” said Emily Havens, executive director of the museum. “Our area’s rich musical legacy is a source of pride for Delta residents. We want to encourage everyone to explore and learn about our entire region, from local school groups to travelers from around the globe.”

In April 2016, The Delta Center hosted a group of Swedish music tourists. In addition to experiencing the GRAMMY Museum, the group visited several attractions included on the Top 40 list including Dockery Farms and Mississippi Blues Trail markers throughout the MDNHA. The group also experienced an African American church service in Clarksdale, a tribute to the MDNHA’s cultural heritage theme celebrating the region as a “Wellspring of Creativity.”

For these and various other programmatic successes, The Delta Center was presented the 2016 Georgene Clark Diversity Champion Award at Delta State University’s Winning the Race Conference.

“Through the Heritage Area partnership, the Mississippi Delta region can come together to take pride in our diverse culture and history,” said Herts. “Our stories surrounding issues of race, social injustice, civil rights, identity and expressions of faith have shaped and reflect the American experience.”

At the May meeting, the MDNHA selected inaugural recipients of the organization’s grant program. Grant programs are created and managed by many National Heritage Areas across the U.S. to support local organizations’ cultural heritage education, interpretation, and promotion efforts.

“We have recently completed the first round of a formal grants program,” explained Tabb. “The management plan calls for us to create a program to fund seed projects that meet the heritage area’s goals. Many worthwhile proposals were submitted for this round from agencies and organizations throughout the Delta. Even though we were unable to fund them all, we were excited to see the work already taking place in the region. We look forward to continuing the grants program and partnering with others celebrating our diverse Delta heritage.”

The next deadline for grant proposals is July 5. Those awarded grants will be notified at the end of August. To find out more about the grants, or the MDNHA, visit www.msdeltaheritage.com.

MDNHA, Delta Center partner with Delta Jewels author for Smithsonian presentation

Annyce Campbell has lived in the same house in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, for over two-thirds of her life. She raised 12 children in the home, teaching them to respect themselves and to respect their community. She raised them quietly and diligently, wanting them to have more opportunities in their lives than she had in hers.

On March 13, Campbell was recognized for her strength and commitment at a Women’s History Month and National Park Service Centennial presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. The event was a Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership program organized by the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, and University of Mississippi journalism professor Alysia Burton Steele, author of “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” The book is a collection of oral histories and portraits featuring 54 African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta. Campbell’s portrait is featured on the book’s cover.

“My grandmother used to tell me that you learn something new everyday,” said Campbell. “I passed that on to my own children. You have to learn to love life, to love living, and to be appreciative of every moment we’re given.”

For Steele, the presentation served as a reinforcement for the importance of gathering oral histories. Her family sat in the audience to hear her speak for the first time, finally under-standing what she strives to do as a journalist. Seeing the way the audience embraced Campbell was also a poignant moment.

“Mrs. Campbell was glowing all weekend,” Steele said. “I was so happy to have helped make this trip happen for her.”

The Delta Center for Culture and Learning serves as the managing entity for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The MDNHA creates partnerships that promote and empower the Mississippi Delta’s people and communities to tell their stories and to celebrate their pride in the region’s unique and diverse cultural heritage.

“After a year of planning, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is excited to see that this collaborative effort was a success,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center and MDNHA. “This would not have been possible without a team of strategic partners. Mossi Tull, a member of the Smithsonian Anacostia board, sponsored travel for Mrs. Campbell and her family. Maggie Tyler with the National Heritage Areas program made important connections with the National Park Service. And, of course, Alysia Burton Steele’s oral histories and photography provided critical subject matter for educating audience members about the Mississippi Delta’s cultural significance. Everyone brought something to the table.”

The MDNHA is one of 49 National Heritage Areas, which are cultural heritage partnerships with the National Park Service. All areas are being encouraged to commemorate the National Park Service Centennial.

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area's Delta Jewels Oral History Partnership Program at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum featured in the Spring 2016 National Heritage Areas Newsletter.

According to Tyler, National Heritage Areas program manager for the National Park Service, this year’s centennial celebrations are intended to engage the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates, and the 49 congressionally designated Heritage Areas around the country are an integral part of the process.

“National Heritage Areas help us achieve this goal by exposing grassroots movements, heritage tourists, and community members to the benefits of having a partnership with the National Park Service in their community,” said Tyler.

The Smithsonian presentation attracted over 70 guests who were eager to hear from Steele and Campbell, as well as to learn about the MDNHA. In addition to receiving words of wisdom directly from Campbell, audience members were treated to a presentation from special guest and Mound Bayou native Reena Evers, daughter of civil rights activists Myrlie Evers-Williams and Medgar Evers. Myrlie Evers-Williams also is a Delta Jewel.

Tull, board member of the museum, was moved by the presentation. “Mrs. Evers family has endured, struggled and fought through things no family should have to face,” he said. “Having her speak with such grace, strength and aplomb was a reminder and inspiration for all of us that face difficult situations to endure as well.”

The Smithsonian presentation follows a series of successful Delta Jewels presentations which have engaged over 700 Delta residents and visitors from diverse backgrounds in several Mississippi Delta communities including Clarksdale, Cleveland, Charleston, Indianola, Itta Bena, Mound Bayou, Ruleville, Vicksburg and Yazoo City.

MDNHA, Delta Jewels partnership visits the White House

Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, whose portrait graces the cover of "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom," recently enjoyed a visit to the White House.

Annyce Campbell of Mound Bayou, whose portrait graces the cover of "Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother's Wisdom," recently enjoyed a visit to the White House.

When University of Mississippi journalism professor Alysia Burton Steele embarked on a journey to record oral histories from African American church women in the Mississippi Delta over three years ago, she was not sure exactly where the journey would take her.

It started at as labor of love to reconnect with her recently deceased grandmother, which led to the publishing of her critically acclaimed book “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom.” The book led to an oral history partnership with the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, a partnership that culminated in an opportunity for Annyce Campbell, featured on the book cover, to visit the White House in Washington, D.C.

“When they said they wanted the woman whose portrait graces the book cover to attend the presentation, I knew that we had to get Mrs. Campbell to the White House,” said Steele. “She was so proud when President Obama was elected. So much so that the walls in her home are filled with portraits of the president and first lady.”

The visit occurred March 12 during a trip to the nation’s capital for a presentation at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum. The Smithsonian program was held in honor of Women’s History Month and the National Park Service Centennial, which is about reconnecting people with their national parks, especially those from underrepresented communities. The White House is part of President’s Park, a National Park Service site.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Annyce Campbell, seated, poses in the White House with her daughters Alma Campbell and Emily Harris, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Campbell still lives in the Mound Bayou, Mississippi home where she and her husband of 69 years raised their nine children. The election of the first African American President of the United States was something she never imagined would happen in her lifetime. Her goal was to enable her family to have opportunities she never enjoyed. She was thrilled that she and her daughters would get a chance to experience the visit together.

“That moment — visiting the White House with my daughters — was more than my mind could conceive,” said Campbell. “I held my ID in my hand for so long. How many more stops do I get to make? Where do we get to go next? Who do we get to meet? I can’t fully express the joy of that trip. Everyone should have an opportunity like this in their lifetime.”

The trip to the White House was not part of the original itinerary. It wasn’t until Campbell landed in D.C. that the tour was finalized.

Mossi Tull, board member for the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, sponsored Campbell’s travel to Washington.

“My grandparents were from Kentwood, Louisiana, and I spent many summers down there,” he said. “Visiting with Mrs. Campbell and her daughters brought back so many wonderful memories for me, and reminded me of the importance of my own family. We laughed. We smiled. We celebrated the fact that we were all together in that moment. It was truly a wonderful afternoon.”

Through the efforts of Maggie Tyler, Southeast Region National Heritage Areas program manager, Campbell was able to participate in the tour with her daughters Emily Harris and Alma Campbell, as well as Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State.

“I was so excited to walk up to the White House gates with them and give Mrs. Campbell her tour ticket and introduce her to the NPS ranger working that day,” said Tyler. “Everyone was so gracious to Mrs. Campbell and her daughters and they were all beaming from ear to ear.  It’s these small moments that make me proud to work for the National Park Service.”

The Delta Center serves as the managing entity of the MDNHA. The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of the Mississippi Delta’s history and culture through education, partnerships, and community engagement. According to Herts, serendipitous moments like this are precisely why their efforts are so important.

“This White House visit is significant on so many levels,” said Herts. “It represents a lifelong dream come true for Mrs. Campbell, her family and her community. It represents the kind of powerful connections that are being made between people and national parks, which is what the National Park Service Centennial is all about. And it represents a story that will be told again and again, which is part of a rich oral history tradition that we are celebrating and honoring with Alysia Burton Steele.”

Steele spent the early years of her career as a photojournalist and editor. She never viewed herself as an oral historian, but through the Delta Jewels project has discovered the craft to be her new passion. Working with the MDNHA and The Delta Center, Steele has been empowered to share the importance of telling stories that have often been left untold and to demonstrate the positive effect conversations can have on communities.

“It’s pretty simple, really, why this important. We’re not going to learn and grow if we don’t talk to each other,” said Steele.