“Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you’ve made sense of one small area.” (And my “one small area” seems to be the Arkansas Delta and surrounding sites in Southeast Arkansas.)
—Nadine Gordimer, Celebrity Cipher,
Tulsa World, 8/27/14
This final post in the series titled “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits” was originally supposed to be one post.
However, after working with it for some time I came to realize that it was too long and needed to be divided into two posts. Then later I saw that it was still too long so I divided it into three posts, with this one being the third and final.
This one concludes the subject of Arkansas Delta plantations and examines some of the places that have special meaning to me in surrounding areas in Drew County, in which I was born, and Desha County, in which I grew up.
Final Look at Arkansas Delta Plantations
“Poor people in the Delta kiss the devil to survive.”
—Jeanie Branch, 82, of Watson, Arkansas, quoted in
“Delta people ‘kiss the devil to survive,’”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 27, 1997
In my last post, “Arkansas Delta Plantations and Other Post-Mortem Tidbits, Part II,” I examined some of the slave/sharecropper/tenant farmer houses usually associated with cotton plantations. I especially featured three photos and a comment from Joe Dempsey on this subject.
Since then on September 8 Joe published another interesting post on the subject in his “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” blog. In that subsequent post, titled “The Lumber That Lasts,” Joe presented another example of an Arkansas Delta sharecropper shack complete with cotton fields, cotton bolls, cotton storage, etc. To view that post, click here.
Here is what Joe had to say about that particular surviving relic of the past:
“Just looking at the structure, one almost expects Erskine Caldwell characters to emerge. The reality is it was likely home to more than a few hardworking families who worked hard and saw fit that there was food on the table and the kids went to school and everyone went to church on Sunday. There were probably chickens in the yard and a dog under the front porch.”
“This is the archetypical early and mid-twentieth century Delta farmhouse. In their latter years, they were used more by farm hand families than the farm owners, but many started as a residence for the owner of the property.
“With two front doors, it appears that it might have started life as a dog-trot house, but a glimpse inside one of the windows makes me believe this is the original configuration. I have not been able to find out much about the history of the old house other than the fact that it is constructed of cypress. That is probably a contributing factor that, despite the harsh winds and weather of the Delta, the old structure is still standing. Few woods resist the nasty temper of weather better than cypress.”
Since this post, I have received two photos of this year’s cotton crops beginning to bloom on two Arkansas Delta plantations: Lakeport and Pickens:
Other Post-Mortem Tidbits
“The past is all around us. We live our lives against a rich backdrop formed by historic buildings, . . . [as well as] the landscapes and other physical survivals of our past. . . . Historic buildings and artifacts can define a region’s localities and communities.”
president of the Lakeport Cemetery Committee,
quoted in “Lakeport Plantation to host reunion celebration,”
McGehee [Arkansas] Times, July 1, 2009
In regard to the “historic buildings [that] define a region’s . . . communities,” the following announcement was sent out recently by Lakeport Plantation:
“The University of Arkansas at Monticello is engaged in plans to create a Southeast Arkansas Heritage Trail anchored by its three historic properties: WWII Italian POW Camp near Monticello (Drew County), the law office of Arkansas Governor Xenophon Overton Pindall in Arkansas City (Desha County), and the ca. 1856 Taylor House at the Hollywood Plantation near Winchester (Drew County). Dr. John Kyle Day, associate professor of history, will discuss the university’s plans to save, preserve, and interpret these important sites for students and the public.”
For more information on this conference, titled “Lakeport Legacies: UAM’s Historic Properties and Tourism in Southeast Arkansas,” email Lakeport Plantation at: email@example.com or visit Lakeport’s Web site at: http://lakeport.astate.edu/
Another one of these historic buildings that define our past is the recently restored Selma Methodist Church in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas, about which I have written in several earlier posts. In fact, it was the sole subject of the first post on my blog titled “My Bucket-List” Trip: The Selma Methodist Church.”
Recently, a friend sent me a photograph and a link to an article and video on Monticello Live about a fire in what is called locally the Selma Fish House, a rustic catfish restaurant located on Highway 278, just west of the 293 intersection. (See photo and map below. To read the article and view a video about the fire, click here.)
Again, there has been no word of any plans to restore the rustic relic.
One reason I am so concerned about the demise, destruction, or simple disappearance of such vestiges of the past is because (as noted in the opening quote above) they define not only our region and community but also our very lives: past, present, and future.
For example, for years there has been talk about the construction of a new interstate highway to run diagonally southwest across the United States from Canada to Mexico. Models show that interstate highway crossing the Mississippi River in Desha County, just above my hometown of McGehee, and then continuing west and passing right below Selma in Drew County.
As interested as I am in supporting any type of projects that will contribute to the restoration of the Delta and surrounding areas, I must admit that I am concerned about the effects of a huge interstate highway system passing within a mile of my beloved rural birthplace. (See map below.)
Finally, although not historic buildings, I am also concerned about the continued preservation of two geographical and cultural sites in Desha and Drew Counties.
First is Bayou Bartholomew, “the longest bayou in the world,” which passes between McGehee and Selma on its twisting route from Southeast Arkansas into Northeast Louisiana. To learn more about this vital but endangered stream, see my earlier post titled “Bayou Bartholomew: Two Book Reviews.” To read about an award-winning documentary on Bayou Bartholomew, click here. To view a Blues music video by Marty Denton of McGehee titled “Delta Mud in Your Blood” featuring Bayou Bartholomew, cotton picking, Delta sharecropper shacks, juke joints, etc., click here.
Next is the Seven Devils Swamp, which is located just below Selma. Recently my longtime friend and McGehee High School classmate Pat Scavo sent me a link to a most interesting article on this subject titled: “Seven Devils: The Wildlife Paradise with the Ominous Name.”
To read this November 15, 2013, piece in Seark Today written by Patty Wooten, and featuring some interesting facts about the swamp’s history and nature, the derivation of its name, and several photos of its foreboding landscape so typical of Southern lowlands, click here.
As I say about this iconic symbol of my birth and childhood, “I was born on the edge of the Seven Devils Swamp. God saw fit to cast me out of the Seven Devils, but unlike Mary Magdalene He has never seen fit to cast the Seven Devils out of me.”
And that’s why I continue to write about and to champion the restoration and preservation of all the “iconic symbols” of not only my own life but the lives of all those who have been shaped forever by these endearing and enduring “places of the heart.”
Videos and Links to “Places in the Heart”
“You are a true Arkie if . . . you think the fall in Eden refers to autumn in Arkansas.” (Used by the Arkansas Times)
To view a musical video of the official Arkansas state song with marvelous scenes from all over the state including the Arkansas Delta, click here.
To view a video of Wayland Holyfield’s Arkansas state song “Arkansas, You Run Deep in Me” with glorious scenes of autumn in Arkansas, click here.
To read about the best fall foliage tours in Arkansas, click here.
To view a three-minute video of native Arkansan Glenn Campbell and Carl Jackson playing a tune titled “Dueling Banjos” from the movie Deliverance and based on the Arkansas state folk tune “The Arkansas Traveler,” click here.
To view a Blues music video titled “Whistle Blowin'” with scenes of the Arkansas Delta written and sung by Marty Denton of McGehee, click here.
To visit a Kat Robinson Tie Dye Travels blog post titled “Conceptions People Have about Arkansas That Are Wrong,” click here and then scroll down to the September 19 entry by that title.
The photos of the Arkansas Delta sharecropper’s shack were taken from Joe Dempsey’s Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind published on September 8, 2014, at:
The photos of cotton in bloom at Lakeport Plantation and Pickens Plantation were provided by Pat Scavo.
The photo of the Selma Methodist Church was taken from:
The photo, article, and video from Monticello Alive about the fire at the Selma Fish House were taken from:
The entry on the existing I-69 was taken from:
The map of the proposed I-69 corridor from Canada to Mexico, was taken from:
The entry on the proposed I-69 in Arkansas was taken from:
The information about the two books on Bayou Bartholomew was taken from:
The photo of Bayou Bartholomew and the Seark Today article about the award-winning documentary on it were taken from:
The photo and information from Seark Today about the Seven Devils Swamp were taken from:
The link to the musical video of the official state song of Arkansas was taken from the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department at:
The video of Wayland Holyfield singing “Arkansas, You Run Deep in Me” was taken from:
The link to the best fall foliage tours in Arkansas was taken from:
The video of Glenn Campbell and Carl Jackson playing “The Dueling Banjos” was taken from:
The announcement of the Southeast Arkansas Heritage Trail was taken from an email from Lakeport Plantation dated September 15, 2014, in regard to a conference titled “Lakeport Legacies: UAM’s Historic Properties and Tourism in Southeast Arkansas” held on September 25.
The Blues music video by Marty Denton titled ‘Whistle Blowin'” was taken from:
The post titled “Conceptions People Have about Arkansas That Are Wrong” by Kat Robinson was taken from her Tie Dye Travels Web site at: http://www.tiedyetravels.com/