Delta Center and MDNHA celebrate Mississippi Delta church mothers

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, in collaboration with various regional partner organizations, have organized a series of “Delta Jewels Community Gatherings” in towns across the Mississippi Delta region, including Charleston, Clarksdale, Indianola, Yazoo City and Ruleville.

The events are named after the book “Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom,” authored by Alysia Burton Steele, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism professor at the University of Mississippi.

The Delta Jewels Community Gatherings are free and open to the public. In all communities, Steele will read from the book. Some of the church mothers who are featured in the book will also speak. Receptions will be held immediately following the program where copies of the book may be purchased. Steele will be available to sign them. 

“I chose women in the Delta because they are my grandmother’s contemporaries, and I wanted dignified portraits of proud, black women who are powerful matriarchs,” said Steele. “There is a need for positive images of African American life and history in the Delta and throughout our nation and our world. This book project is about addressing that need and sharing educationally and culturally significant stories that deserve to be preserved and told today and for generations to come.”

Steele’s book features oral histories and photographs of over 50 African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta, including Civil Rights icon Myrlie Evers-Williams. The book has been featured in The New York Times, Southern Living magazine, National Public Radio, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and several other media outlets.

“It is an honor to present Mrs. Steele’s book and the church mothers’ stories throughout the region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “These community gatherings are integral to The Delta Center’s mission of promoting greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history. The gatherings also will feature life stories that connect with several of our National Heritage Area’s cultural heritage themes, including the Civil Rights Movement, race relations, literature, arts and religion.” 

Steele traveled over 12,000 miles during the summer of 2013 to interview and photograph the church mothers, several of whom are from Tallahatchie County. All of the church mothers, their families, pastors and congregation members have been invited to attend the gathering in Charleston. Some are expected to speak during the program, sharing stories from their lives ranging from the tragic to the triumphant. 

“This as a wonderful opportunity for residents and visitors to learn about, take pride in and celebrate the Delta’s distinctive culture through these revered keepers of community heritage,” said Herts. “Those who attend will hear powerful stories that not only are significant to our region’s history but also to our nation’s history and to all of humanity. These women and their wisdom make them living treasures. They are our beloved Delta Jewels.”

For more information about the gatherings, contact the DCCL at 662-846-4311.