Celebrating Unity and Diversity in the Mississippi Delta

Delta Bohemian: Things are changin'

Riley, Madge, Dandy, Red, Dingo kickin' it in front of Red's Lounge in Clarksdale

Riley, Madge, Dandy, Red, Dingo kickin’ it in front of Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale


Clarksdale, Mississippi

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”  —  Psalm 133:1

The initial Delta Bohemian® tagline: Celebrating the Constancy and Diversity in the Mississippi Delta is still real, true, and spot on, but we are changing Constancy to Unity! Why?

A true rendering of history should focus more on continuity than change, just as an honest look at our Mississippi Delta should focus more on our similarities rather than on our differences. Diversity appreciated leads to better understanding, undue focus on differences leads to disunity, while celebrating commonalities with a strong regard for uniqueness leads to unity.

This quirky, pseudo-literary, quasi-Bohemian (ad)venture that Madge Marley and I have been on for about four years is as fluid as the Big River that formed the alluvial plains we live on. Life is full of transcendental paradoxes—statements seen on the surface as self-contradictory but which really when taken together express a truth. And the Truth is: blacks folks and white folks and rich and poor and Delta and Bohemian all go together much better than they don’t, in the Delta!

Writing about and talking about unity is easy when folks are unified, but it’s a hell of a lot tougher when they ain’! But, that’s when it’s needed most. I am a poor reflector and writer, and often am dead wrong about a lot of things, occasionally right about a few things, and sure as heck am not qualified to write about most things—unity is no exception, but it’s that important!

The Delta Bohemian was birthed with intent to celebrate the continuity, constants that are good, and the diversity, individual and collective distinctions that are also good, found in the Mississippi Delta, and this partly from one who swore he would never move back to the Delta; what did I know?

The Mississippi Delta is an easy whippin’ boy for folks who have not lived here and those unduly influenced by stereotypes. We do have broken cords of racism, resentment between socio-economic groups, and misunderstandings abound as they do in any place where you have at least two people. Words and phrases spoken publicly incite, perceptions of what “might” be spoken in private further divide, but to borrow from Nixon, “Let me make something perfectly clear,” it ain’ all bad down here!

Why you think folks from all over the world come here? Blues? Sure! Sunshine? You bet! Good eats? Oh yeah! But, our people, our characters and our genial affability, those be the draw!

Blacks and Whites and Hispanics and Orientals and people with multi-racial and mixed descents rub shoulders here better’n most places in the world. Oh, white folks may laugh a bit about black folks and blacks folks will laugh about some crazy-ass white-folk habits, but we get along pretty damn good, until some local politician or “outside agitator” stirs the pot. But you know what? When you stir the proverbial pot, discrete elements blend all the mo betta, in time!

Unity in the Delta ain’ just about blacks and whites getting along; it includes tourists and locals, church folks and non-church folks, young and old, rich and poor, city and country, ad finitum… But, I can’t even get along with my own self, and like Madge always says, no two people are alike. Unity begins with me.

There are so many opportunities and sound bites in our electronic, instant-gratification age, folks on both sides of every aisle protecting self, and often in the name of the greater good, that it is a miracle we can block out the noise of discontent and even see with a thankful heart that we have much in common as groups, tribes, and individuals. It’s not just on a global, national, or larger scale; it’s right here in my darkened heart, where unity begins anyway.

Would it be so that I and others could take to heart the Elizabethan poet John Donne’s admonition:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Donne understood that the human family is made up of individuals integrally connected via our humanness. What happens to one should affect everybody. Each person’s death, life struggles and condition should make us more empathetic and connected!

It is too easy to get blinded by my own views and perceptions and pre-suppositions. I may be right at times, but it doesn’t make it right, necessarily.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  —  Paul (not McCartney)

Madge was moved to change the tagline and replace “continuity” with “unity” as a result of something she heard a few weeks ago in church. We attended New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Clarksdale for about a year before following the pastor, Mark Webb, to First Presbyterian Church, where he joined with Bill Gleason and staff to bring about a true, organic, non-forced ecumenical expression shared by whites and blacks and those with denominational distinctions.

May I and others focus on what’s important—Unity! It’s not easy, but it’s right and it will produce fruit! pw

The Delta Bohemian®: Celebrating Unity and Diversity in the Mississippi Delta

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