“The mystic chords of memory . . .
all over this broad land, will yet swell . . .
by the better angels of our nature.”
—Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address,
March 4, 1861
“But while we may leave Arkansas, Arkansas never leaves us.”
—John McClendon, “The Fountains of Youth,”
Arkansas Life, Digital Version, April 2015
In my last post titled “The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Part III: The Delta Blues Roots of 1950’s Rock and Roll” I noted that due to my declining health (especially my failing eyesight) I would not be able to produce a new blog post until the end of the summer.
I also noted that the new planned post would be Part IV in the series on the subject of 1950’s Rock and Roll music of my teenage years.
However, in the meantime despite my continuing health issues and diminished eyesight I decided to try to make up a mid-summer post of collected updates and tidbits on previous posts, several of which were sent to me by friends and relatives.
Following are seven of these items which I had thought would not require as much detail or illustration as normal full-post entries, though that assumption proved to be false.
They relate to: (1) the WWII Japanese internment camp museum in my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas; (2) Gayle Harper’s book about her voyage of discovery down the Mississippi River; (3) a presentation about absentee Delta plantation owners; (4) the story of a black man who returned to the Delta to restore the “big house” of the Arkansas plantation on which he was born and toiled; (5) a song by black Country-Western singer Charlie Pride about growing up near a “Mississippi Cotton-Pickin’ Delta Town”; 6) two memorable quotes about Home in the South and Southern Hospitality; and (7) the eternal natural beauty of Elizabeth Taylor who played Southern Belles in at least two of her many films.
(Note: To magnify the photos, click on each one individually.)
Update on WWII Japanese Internment Camps
“As stewards of our nation’s history, the National Park Service recognizes the importance of preserving these confinement sites. They are poignant reminders—today and for future generations—that we must be always vigilant in upholding civil liberties for all.”
—National Park Director Jonathan B. Jarvis
In several of my previous posts I wrote about the WWII Japanese-American internment camps, especially the two in Southeast Arkansas (the only ones in the South), and particularly about the new museum dedicated to them in my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas.
Recently the McGehee Times reported the observance of the two-year anniversary of the dedication of that museum and provided records of its attendance during that time period. According to officials, the museum has had more than 5,100 visitors from forty-nine states and twenty-four foreign countries.
On June 17, 2015, the Times published an article titled “National Park Service announces grants to support Japanese American internment projects.” In that article it was noted that twenty grants totaling more than $2.8 million were being set aside “to help preserve and interpret World War II confinement sites of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were American citizens.”
Among the projects funded by the grants will be “the creation of an online archive that will include more than 1,300 digitally scanned documents and photographs related to the former Rohwer incarceration site in [Rohwer] Arkansas [near McGehee].”
Update on Book about Voyage
down the Mississippi River
“‘Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River’” by Gayle Harper is a Winner in Foreword Review’s ‘Book of the Year’ INDIEFAB Competition! Winners were announced last night onstage at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in San Francisco and across social media—and ‘Roadtrip . . .’ took the Bronze Medal for the Travel category!”
—Gayle Harper writing about her book in June 27 email
Recently I received two email updates from Gayle Harper concerning her book about her voyage down the Mississippi River titled Roadtrip with a Raindrop. Following are some excerpts from one of those updates.
The 2015 Book Tour
I’ve just returned from another leg of the 2015 Book Tour for “Roadtrip with a Raindrop: 90 Days Along the Mississippi River.” This one was to the Delta, the land of heavy air, light hearts, sweet tea and hot tamales. This part of the adventure, sharing the Multimedia Presentation and the books is every bit as much fun as was the journey. Everywhere it is received with such exuberance that I am continually amazed. It makes people happy—and that is more than enough reason for me to do this!
I stopped by the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, Mississippi, and who walks in but my buddy Pat Thomas! I met him on Day 72 of the road trip and you can read his story on page 184 of “Roadtrip with a Raindrop.” He’s a Blues man and the son of a Blues legend, “Son” Thomas. I can’t say which one of us was happier to reconnect.
American Queen Adventure Coming Soon
I’ll be presenting on board the stunningly gorgeous American Queen Steamboat July 23–29 at http://www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com/.
I was lucky enough to have a tour in Memphis and again in Natchez and I can hardly wait for this adventure! It is the world’s largest steamboat, with the capacity for 436 overnight passengers and every inch of it is elegantly beautiful. I’ll be on the trip from Dubuque to St. Paul and the return trip. Join me if you can!
(c) Gayle Harper
For additional information on the book and how to order it, to see the photos and the BOOK TRAILER, and to learn more about the cruise on the American Queen, go to www.gayleharper.com.
Lakeport History Talk on
Absentee Plantation Owners
“Kenneth Rayner, a resident of North Carolina, purchased a 538 acre Chicot County plantation in 1845. Writing to a friend, he objected to the land being ‘in the state of Arkansas’ and complained ‘I will never leave my wife so long again.’ Two years later, visiting the plantation during the December harvest, he praised his overseer, ‘I think my overseer a first rate manager . . . he has picked, and packed about 220 bales of cotton’ despite bad weather.”
—Caption under photo of Kenneth Rayner, a Chicot County, Arkansas, plantation owner, in Lakeport Plantation announcement on June 16, 2015
The above quote was taken from an online announcement of a history talk by Dr. Kelly Houston Jones, of Austin Peay State University, which was held on June 25 at Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village, Arkansas.
According to the Lakeport announcement:
Many masters along the Mississippi River did not reside on their plantations. Instead they relied on overseers to run the day-to-day operations. The absence of a white family in the ‘big house’ could make the plantation a much different place than one with an owner-resident. Dr. Kelly Jones will discuss her work on R.C. Ballard and other area plantation owners who resided away from their holdings, and what those arrangements would have meant for enslaved people living on those plantations.
In a related article in a recent issue of the McGehee Times, it was noted that “Ballard, a former slave trader, invested his profits in human trafficking into plantations in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas. By 1860 Ballard and his firm owned 500 slaves. His Wagram Plantation in Chicot County, Arkansas included 915 acres and 80 enslaved laborers.”
To learn more about this subject and others relating to antebellum plantations in Arkansas and surrounding states, visit the Lakeport Plantation Web site at http://lakeport.astate.edu/ or send an email to the following address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit some of my previous blog posts on the Delta titled, “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits, Part I; Arkansas Delta Plantations, Part II; and Arkansas Delta Plantations, Part III by clicking on their titles here or on their actual URLs in the Sources section at the end of this post.
Black Man Restores Delta Plantation House
“He [a black man] had returned home to the Arkansas Delta to purchase and restore a house that he was never allowed to enter as a child. . . . . He had traveled to every corner of the U.S., as well as 13 foreign countries, as a performer. But while we may leave Arkansas, Arkansas never leaves us.”
—John McClendon, “The Fountains of Youth,”
Arkansas Life, Digital Version, April 2015
In an online version of an article titled “The Fountain of Youth” which appeared in the April issue of Arkansas Life, John McClendon presented an extremely well-written account of a black man named Charles Graham who not only dreamed of returning to the Arkansas Delta plantation on which he was born and where he toiled in the cotton fields as a child, but of restoring its Southern-style “big house” to its former glory and for a new purpose.
As McClendon noted:
In a baritone both calm and convincing, Graham delivers the script-worthy story of his life with diction so perfect and accent-free that it belies any hint of his rural Arkansas upbringing. But with his powerful gospel voice describing cotton stalks rising from sandy loam and days afield in 100-degree heat, it’s immediately clear that his is a setting purely Southern. As he reflects on his youth, a stream of continuous memories fills the room—verse after verse about life in the late ’50s and ’60s as a poor black child in the Arkansas Delta.
Then McClendon went on to describe the arduous task Graham set for himself in restoring the “big house” with the help of friends and others who shared his vision for that restoration and renewal of purpose:
The desire to see the old place brought back to life became a combined cause for those who remembered what it once was, as well as those who believed in Graham’s vision for the house’s future.
To read the entire story of Graham’s life and mission, both personal and religious, click on the title “The Fountains of Youth” or click on the actual URL in the Sources section of this post.
A Different Black Man’s View of the Delta
“Down in the Delta where I was born
All we raised was cotton, potatoes and corn
I’ve picked cotton till my fingers hurt
Draggin’ the sack through that Delta dirt. . . . .
“In a Mississippi cotton pickin’ Delta town
One dusty street to walk up and down
Nothin’ much to see but a starvin’ hound
In a Mississippi cotton pickin’ Delta town.”
—Lyrics to Charley Pride song titled
“Mississippi Cotton Pickin’ Delta Town”
written by Harold Dorman and George Gann
A few months ago my 1956 McGehee High School classmate and friend Pat Scavo, who has lived in and still loves both sides of the Mississippi River Delta, sent me a musical video of black Country-Western singer Charley Pride.
The link was to a You Tube video of Charley singing one of his classic hits about his birthplace where he spent his youth in “a Mississippi cotton-pickin’ Delta town.”
Since you are likely already familiar with this song, I am sure you will have no difficulty in detecting the obvious difference in perspectives of Charley Pride and Charles Graham, another black man who returned to his birthplace in the Delta as described in the preceding section.
To view and hear Charley Pride’s musical memory of the Delta from his childhood days, click here or click on the actual URL in the Sources section at the end of this post.
Quotes on Home and
Hospitality in the South
“When I am overcome with homesickness, I refer to it as being ‘all down in the South’ or suffering from ‘y’all withdrawal.’ The only answer is to ‘take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land’—or at least find some ‘sweet young Southern thang’ to ‘tawk Dixie to me.’”
Sometime in the recent past, my longtime friend and 1956 Delta high school classmate Pat Scavo (who grew up in both McGehee, Arkansas, and Benoit, Mississippi, across the River) sent me the following quotes about Home in the South and the definition of Southern Hospitality. I thought I would insert them here since they both seem to fit right in with the other subjects in this post of updates and tidbits. Their original versions set as pieces of art can be accessed and purchased through their Web sites in the Sources section at the end of this post.
At Home in the South
“Sometimes we need to go where we can hear a screen door slam,
echoes of our parents calling our name,
wish on a falling star & catch fireflies in a jar.”
—Connie Sue, Heavenly Place
As a tenth-generation Southerner and a professional copywriter, the only change I would have suggested to this Southern saying would be to reword the last phrase to “catch lightnin’ bugs in a fruit jar (or Mason jar).”
“Not a tangible thing, but an attitude which has been ingrained in Southerners forever.
It’s a feeling of being sincerely welcomed as a guest or a long-lost friend; a way of life that lets people be as warm as the climate.
It’s an easiness in speaking with total strangers or anyone, a unique friendliness encompassing the whole way of life in the Deep South.
It’s not something one does, it’s the way one is.”
—Dee Johnson, Southern Hospitality
Of course, since I was born and raised in Southeast Arkansas and have lived for a short time in South Carolina and spent the second half of my life (thirty-eight years) in Northeast Oklahoma, I wholeheartedly agree with both of these observations about Home in the South and Southern Hospitality.
Update Quotes on Elizabeth Taylor
“All women need makeup. Don’t let anybody tell you different.
The only woman who was pretty enough to go without makeup
was Elizabeth Taylor,
and she wore a ton of it.”
—Violet, matriarch of the Weston family, to Ivy,
her plain middle-aged daughter,
in play “August: Osage County” set in northeast Oklahoma
The above quote by Benjamin Hardy appeared in “Bleak House in ‘Osage County,’” a theatrical review published in the Arkansas Times on June 11, 2015.
The play, written by native Oklahoman Tracey Letts, won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was later made into a feature movie. The 2013 film version starred Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, who delivered this line about Elizabeth Taylor and her eternal beauty. (To read a Wikipedia article about this play, click here. To read a Wikipedia article about the film version, click here. Or click on the actual URLs in the Sources section at the end of this post.)
The reason I inserted this observation about feminine beauty from that play is twofold: (1) because the opening quote above relates to one of my favorite all-time screen stars, the late icon of beauty Elizabeth Taylor, and because it is voiced by one of my favorite current screen stars, the incomparable and seemingly imperishable Meryl Streep, and (2) because Elizabeth Taylor starred as a Southern Belle in at least two of my favorite Hollywood films: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Raintree County.
To illustrate and confirm the truth of this statement about Elizabeth Taylor not needing to wear makeup to enhance her inherent beauty, here are two photos of her (with and without makeup) sent to me recently by Pat Scavo. The two are only examples of several such photos of my “American Idol” that Patsy Mc has forwarded to me in the past and continues to do so. As such, they add to the eight I have taped around my computer in my office and the seven I have taped in and around my shaving mirror in my half-bath.
Thank you, Patsy Mc, for continuing to support me in my adoration and worship of the Lovely Liz whose fabulous beauty will never fade as long as Jimmy Peacock draws breath!
(For more on the subject of my enduring love for Elizabeth Taylor, “the most beautiful creature God ever made”—except for Mari, of course—visit the sections on her in my earlier blog posts, especially “My Lifelong Attraction to Black Beauty” and “Who’s to Blame?: Humorous Self-Quotes” here and in the Sources section at the end of this post.)
The quote of Abraham Lincoln on memory was taken from:
The quotes about the Japanese American internment sites were taken from an article titled “National Park Service announces grants to support Japanese American internment projects” which appeared in the McGehee Times on June 17, 2015.
The photo of the WWII Japanese-American Museum in McGehee, Arkansas, was taken from:
The information and photos about Gayle Harper and her book about her voyage down the Mississippi River were taken from her Web site at:
The quotes about absentee plantation owners and slaveholders were taken from an email announcement of a talk on the history of the subject by Dr. Kelly Houston Jones, of Austin Peay State University, held on June 25 at Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village, Arkansas. The quotes and the photo of Lakeport Plantation were used by permission. The final quote on the subject was taken from an article titled “Dr. Kelly Houston Jones to speak at Lakeport Plantation” which appeared in a recent issue of the McGehee Times.
Some of my previous posts about Arkansas Delta Plantations scattered throughout this blog can be accessed at:
The quotes and the photo of the Baxter Plantation house near Dermott, Arkansas, were taken from an article titled “The Fountains of Youth,” written by John McClendon with photos by Sara Blancett Reeves, which appeared in the Arkansas Life, Digital Version, April 2015 issue, accessed at:
The lyrics to the Charley Pride song “Mississippi Cotton-Pickin’ Delta Town” were taken from:
The video of Charley Pride singing this song was taken from:
The photo of Charley Pride was taken from:
The photo of the Southern Belle standing in front of an ante-bellum home in the historic Mississippi River port of Helena, Arkansas, was taken from a postcard published by the Helena Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission, 622 Pecan, P.O. Box 495, Helena, Arkansas 72342, 501-338-6583
The two quotes about the South titled “At Home in the South” and “Southern Hospitality” were sent to me by Pat Scavo. The first was taken from Connie Sue’s Safe Haven Web site at:
The second quote about Southern Hospitality by Dee Jackson was taken from her Web site at:
The quote about Elizabeth Taylor from the play “August: Osage County” was taken from a theatrical review by Benjamin Hardy titled “Bleak house in ‘Osage County’” which appeared in the Arkansas Times on June 11, 2015. It was sent to me by Pat Scavo.
The Wikipedia article about the Broadway play “August: Osage County” was taken from:
The Wikipedia article about the film version of “August: Osage County” was taken from:
The Wikipedia articles and photos of the two Elizabeth Taylor films in which she starred as a Southern Belle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Raintree County, were taken from:
The two photos of Elizabeth Taylor with and without makeup were sent to me by Pat Scavo and taken from:
The earlier blog posts with sections about my love for Elizabeth Taylor titled “My Lifelong Attraction to Black Beauty” and “Who’s to Blame?: Humorous Self-Quotes” can be accessed at: