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Delta Ecology Research Conservancy

The Delta Ecology Research Conservancy Center (DERCC) provides members with special privileges, information and Archives related to the People, Ecology, Agriculture, Music, and Literary History of the Mississippi Delta.

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Civil Rights & Music History in Quitman County Mississippi

  • Public
By Delta Ecology Research Conservancy 821 days ago

Categories: Art Music Entertainment Travel & Sports, Social & Religious Empowerment

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Civil Rights & Music History in Quitman County Mississippi

Helen Bartlett-Hanna
Harlington L. Hanna Jr.

Research Supported By:
Delta Ecology Research Conservancy
Hannaian Research Institute

Quitman County Mississippi situated in the heart of the famous Mississippi Yazoo Delta has a history of American Civil Rights and Music most small counties in the United States can only dream about. The Town of Marks is the County Seat and Capitol of Quitman County. Crenshaw, Sledge, Belen, Birdie, Darling, Hinchcliff, Lambert, Denton, and Vance are some of the other historic towns in the County. The county is named after John A. Quitman, Governor of Mississippi from 1835 to 1836 and from 1850 to 1851.

'The county was developed for cotton cultivation. Much of the bottomlands behind the riverfront were not developed until the late 19th century, and population continued to increase as the frontier was cleared and cultivated. The county reached its peak population in 1940. Agricultural mechanization reduced the need for farm labor, and workers were recruited to northern and midwestern industrial cities. Thousands of African Americans left in the Great Migration, many going upriver to St. Louis and Chicago.' (Wikipedia)

American Civil Rights

American Music has a long history and association with the fight for Civil Rights in the United States and the World. Mississippi is noted for its significant Civil Rights History with major Battles fought in the first Civil Rights Campaign-The American Civil War. The Coldwater River in Marks and Quitman County was a primary Site in “The Yazoo Pass Expedition Battle” near the end of The Civil War, directed by General Ulysses Grant in his attempt to end the Civil War by capturing Vicksburg, Mississippi. Mississippi and its Yazoo Delta was arguably the most important part of the Confederacy due to the importance of its lucrative Cotton Fields which provided significant Export income for the Fledgling United States, and much of the funding for the Confederate Civil War Campaign. At the time before the world became dependent on Oil, the phrase ‘Cotton is King’ was truly instructive. The Confederacy could not survive without the Delta’s contribution to the Cotton Economy of the United States, and certainly not without the massive number of enslaved Blacks working the Cotton Fields.

The Yazoo Pass Expedition is noted for it being thwarted by the Confederates sinking “The Star of The West” in the River to block the passage of the Union’s Expedition near the point where the Coldwater and Tallahatchie Rivers merge. The Star of The West was the historic ship which was fired on by Cadets of the Citadel with the first shots and battle starting the Civil War. They were trying to prevent it from delivering supplies and ammunition to Fort Sumter in the Charleston S.C. harbor. This point in the River is also near the place where famed Blues Legend Robert Johnson died and is buried at The Star of The West Plantation.

The Modern Civil Rights Movement was initiated by the Lynching of Emmett Till in the Mississippi Delta, among numerous other Historical Civil Rights Events. The Coldwater River and the Tallahatchie River, associated with these Historic Civil Rights Events, run through Marks and Quitman County.

In addition to the Emmet Till Saga where he was killed and dumped into the River just South of Quitman County, the Tallahatchie River is also noted for its central theme in Bobbie Gentry’s blockbuster hit song “Ode to Billie Joe” and the related Movie. She sang about Billy Joe McAllister jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge, throwing something off the Bridge into the River, and her spending a lot of time picking flowers and dropping them into the muddy water off the Bridge.

The Poor People's Campaign

The most recent History of Civil Rights notoriety associated with the area is the role that the City of Marks played in the origins and implementation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign (PPC)”. The historic Mule Train Caravan which travelled from Marks to Resurrection City on the Washington Mall as part of the PPC in 1968 was the crowning event of the Campaign which got its inspiration from Dr. King’s visits to Marks. 

'Martin Luther King Jr. originally wanted the Poor People's Campaign to start in Quitman County because of the intense and visible economic disparity there. On March 18, 1968, King visited the town of Marks, Mississippi. He watched a teacher feeding black schoolchildren their lunch, consisting only of a slice of apple and some crackers, and was moved to tears.' (Wikipedia)

American Music

Mississippi has established itself as the State that is the Birthplace of American Music, and the State has carefully researched and documented this history. The State has placed official Historic Markers throughout the Region recognizing birthplaces and other connections to more than two hundred (200) notable artists in the genres of Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Gospel, Soul, and Country music. Most of these Markers are located in the famous Northwest Section of the State known as the Mississippi Delta. The number of famous artists that emanate from this area is especially noteworthy, considering the small population of the Region.

The Musical History of Quitman County includes being the home of Charlie Pride, Stephen Pride, Albert “Sunnyland Slim” Luandrew, John Lee Hooker, Earl Hooker, James Edward “Snooky” Pryor, Johnny Billington and other music legends.

John Lee Hooker’s song “Boogie Chillen” was in fact the first number one hit on the new Rhythm & Blues Billboard Charts in 1949, just after Billboard changed the name of its Black Music oriented “Race Records” Charts, to the new “Rhythm & Blues” Charts.

W.C. Handy “Father of the Blues” first discovered “Blues Music” just across the Quitman County Line at the Tutwiler Train Station in 1903.

Some researchers have also identified the Crossroads and Park at Highway 6 and Highway 3 in Marks as the most likely location of a Real Blues Crossroads, representing the famed mythological “Robert Johnson Blues Crossroads”.

Quitman County and its Capitol City of Marks also sits in the middle of the recently established “Americana Music Triangle” where “history made music and music made history”. The Triangle is a Gold Record Music Tourism Road Trip which connects the people, places, and stories of American Music from Memphis to Nashville, through Muscle Shoals to New Orleans, and then through the Mississippi Delta back to Memphis.

It was the vast Cotton Fields of Quitman County and other parts of the Mississippi Delta that first provided the environment that nurtured early Civil Rights Activists, and Field Workers, motivating them to sing and produce the songs and rhythms we now identify as Blues, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, and Country Music. It was this cultural and musical phenomenon that provided the basis for the prodigious economic success and profits of the U.S. Music Industry worldwide.

The connection between Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Country Music, and Religion is as strong a nexus as possible. It produced the Black and White Gospel Music and hymns that have permeated the Black church, and even the first and “Whitest Church” in America, the Episcopal Church, offspring of the Anglican Church, the Church of England.

Today the Gospel songs and hymns championed by the Mississippi Delta Enslaved and their Descendants can be heard in Churches of diverse Denominations throughout the United States and the World.

American Culture

The nearby Bottomlands of the Tallahatchie River on the Eastern Border of Quitman County is where famed American writer William Faulkner spent a lot of time hunting and socializing at his friend’s Hunting Lodge. It is where he experienced much of what he wrote about in his books and mythological County of “Yoknapatawpha”.

The Choctaw - Chickasaw Territorial Boundary established by Treaties between these important Native American Nations and the United States runs directly through Quitman County. The importance of the Native American presence in the Area is evidenced by several Indian Mounds, including a prominent one just south of Marks on the Coldwater River. The contributions of Native Americans to the establishment of American Civil Rights have often been overlooked. The rhythms, innovations, and contributions of Native American Artists and Musicians have also not been appropriately recognized by traditional American Music Historians.

The Town of Marks, the birthplace of Fred Smith founder of the FedEx company, sits just east of the Blues Music Hub of Clarksdale Mississippi with its numerous cultural attractions. These attractions include actor Morgan Freeman’s famous Ground Zero Blues Club and Restaurant, the Historic District of Playwright Tennessee Williams, and the Delta Blues Museum, largest of its kind in the World. The only Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles sits on the Campus of Delta State University in Cleveland Mississippi, just a short distance southwest of Quitman County. The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) with its significant history and archives is a short distance to the east of Marks. Both Universities are located on Highway 6 (US 278) as is Marks, and easily accessible. Amtrak’s City of New Orleans Express Train service provides daily trips between New Orleans, Memphis, and Chicago, and makes daily stops conveniently in downtown Marks, providing easy access for visitors to the area.


Delta Ecology Research Conservancy

Delta Ecology Research Conservancy

The Delta Ecology Research Conservancy Center (DERCC) provides members with special privileges, information and Archives related to the People, Ecology, Agriculture, Music, and Literary History of the Mississippi Delta.

Preserving Delta CHHAARM (Culture, History, Health, Agriculture, Arts, Rights, & Music)
The Delta Ecology Research Conservancy (DERC) is a Not for Profit organization dedicated to the Study,...


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