HELENA-WEST HELENA TO CLARKSDALE
We said goodbye to Cathy and spent some time at the Elaine Massacre Memorial. It is beautifully done and the community is looking forward to the event at 2:00 PM. We considered coming back to Helena, Arkansas to be part of the proceedings, but we had some miles to cover and a full day ahead of us in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Tom ran down Cherry Street and continued south on Biscoe Street to the US 49 bridge over the Mississippi River. There’s a nice paved trail most of the way, which was a welcome sight. We’ve been encountering fewer and fewer ped/bike accommodations as we proceed south. The bike trail transitioned to a very difficult segment along US 49. I rode this segment over the Mississippi River bridge with the Relay van close behind, lights flashing. The bridge is about a mile long, with another couple of miles of narrow approach roadway—guard rail and concrete barrier immediately adjacent to the lane. If not for the light traffic on a Sunday morning, we may have chosen to skip this segment.
After that, it was mostly cotton. Cotton fields, cotton bales, trucks hauling cotton, cotton being harvested, post-harvest cotton fields, loose cotton lining the ditches. We passed through the Stovall Plantation, where Muddy Waters lived for most of his first 30 years. After the Stovall Farm, it was mostly blues . . .
We landed right downtown. It’s midday Sunday and things are quiet around here. Our hosts, Bill and Francine Luckett invited us to meet them out at their place as they arrived home from a trip to Virginia. Soon after, we drove downtown for breakfast or lunch—your choice—at Our Grandma’s House of Pancakes, apparently a Sunday tradition for Bill and Francine. Following a healthy dose of eggs and burgers, Bill gave us a driving tour around Clarksdale, including historic sites and the new real estate developments he and Francine have been putting together.
Later in the afternoon we went over to Bill’s office to meet up with Catrina Neal who has lived in Clarksdale since she was 12 years old. She was born in Duncan, Mississippi and moved here to be closer to her mother’s job. Her family lived in “the circle” neighborhood such that she attended the County high school, but now she lives on the outskirts of Clarksdale and her son attends Clarksdale High. When she was growing up, the schools were weak, she says, and didn’t prepare her for college. She attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) for a short while, and felt way out of her depth.
In the end, though, Catrina had a child and decided to move home before finishing college. She eventually pursued her degree in paralegal studies closer to home and has made quite a career for herself. In fact, she says she wouldn’t change a thing. Her brother didn’t go to college—he’s got a successful landscaping business. It’s important to Catrina to have family around as she is raising her son who is now 17 years old. He’s a high school junior, an A student on the honor roll. He is active—loves sports, but is more into leadership situations like national honor society, tech club, and Clarksdale high virtual reality class. He even takes classes at the local community college, starting to earn college credits now! He’s aiming for nursing as a major.
Catrina thinks black leadership is important to this community. She disagrees with some things that took place during the last election. “It got too political,” she says. She’s worked for Bill for many years, and feels there were some lies told about him in the heated mayorial election between he and now serving mayor Chuck Espy.
As for the emblem of Clarksdale—that is, the Blues—Catrina is not a big fan. Nor did she grow up with church at the center of her experience. Regardless, Sundays were family days, with meals like chicken, dressing, sweet potato pies, potato salad and greens. Still, she’s not claiming to be much of a cook, and tends to go out to eat maybe three days a week.
Bill picked us up from the law office and we took the long ride out, past the Shack-up Inn, to the “exclusive” Bayou Bend Country Club just outside of Sumner, Mississippi. You can’t google Bayou Bend. It won’t show up as a place, a restaurant, a golf club, anything. It’s that “exclusive.” And we had been warned by Francine, who refuses to go out to Bayou Bend, that the building is not your typical country club. Apparently, the tennis courts are being converted to dove hunting grounds!
Amongst the variety of characters that we were introduced to, was none other than Morgan. Everyone was excited to talk to Morgan, just off the golf course in this 100 degree heat. He’s an elderly black man who’s recently moved back to Clarksdale and invested in the revitalization of the community in the ways one can. Morgan’s life and career have taken him around the world, mixing with all kinds of famous people, and in the end he could be anywhere. But in the end, he wants to be here, where his family is from, where he has roots, where that white ancestor and black ancestor shared more than words, but shared history. Honestly, Morgan doesn’t see a whole lot of future for the Delta, but he’s sticking it out here while he can.
When we left Bayou Bend, Bill still had one stop on the agenda. I rode out with Colleen Buyers and Tom rode with Bill—I think we had two very divergent conversations(!). We landed at Hooker Grocery & Eatery Clarksdale for a few more drinks with Bernadette Messina, but we quickly had to escape for a good dose of hydration and sleep! The South will do that to you!!! And we didn’t even hear the Blues!