Echoes ‘cross the Tracks
(brief history / film synopsis)
Written by: Scott A. Jennison/ 2001
They sang Gospel for Freedom, Sweet Freedom...
when God didn’t answer,
they sang the Blues.
The mighty Mississippi River bleeds muddy water into an alluvial plain, creating what is known as The Mississippi Delta. Once a dense, flooded forest teeming with wildlife... panthers, bears, alligators... a forest primeval... soon cut down for its rich soil. Thousands of slaves were brought in from West Africa to the Mississippi Delta. Their task was to clear the forest with hand saws and axes- build the levees- then till and plant cotton in the newly uncovered earth.
It was a place of total isolation from the outside world, neighboring farms, known as Plantations, were miles apart. The only time these migrant workers could gather was late at night, after long hot days in the fields- out of earshot of the overseer.
The music helped them endure and flowed like no other place on Earth. The dust rose from their feet as they danced. Work songs and field hollers passed the day and music about their troubles echoed into the night. No amount of hardship or pain could silence the music of their forefathers. In fact, their pain became the source of a new sound...
Deep within the Mississippi Delta, just beyond reach of the flooding Mississippi River, a railway system was constructed linking the Delta with the outside world. The trains rolled throughout the landscape and eventually stopped at the newly constructed Clarksdale Train Station.
The railroad tracks soon became the dividing line between blacks and whites. A known physical dividing line, often written into Law. One side was black, the other white. An entire black village was built at Clarksdale Train Station on the ‘other side of the tracks’ - known as New Africa. It’s said, that during the 20’s and 30’s music spilled into the streets with juke joints on nearly every corner. The town of Clarksdale was the proving ground for musicians in the region. Competition was fierce, and so were the fights, once blacks learned they could get out of working the cotton fields, if they could make enough money playing music. They would ride the boxcars from town to town in search of an audience. Little did they know the impact or longevity of what they were doing.
The rivers, railroads and cotton fields created an economic boom for the entire region of white landowners. Tractors soon took the place of workers causing a migration to the north, in search of work. Today, the Delta region is desolate. The railroad no longer carries passengers, the boxcars mostly sit and rust. An era lost and forgotten.