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STORIES OF THE DELTA

On June 4, 5, and 6, 1996, 25 experts on the people, history, culture, economy, and natural environment of the Lower Mississippi Delta gathered in Memphis, Tennessee. Their purpose was to identify key stories and some of the sites that make this region of the country worthy of national recognition and attention. A broad-ranging content and collaborative spirit were generated at the Lower Mississippi Delta Symposium and became the heart of the "Stories of the Delta" presented here. Throughout the heritage study process, the team worked closely with these "experts", various regional partners, and the public to affirm and enhance the work accomplished at that first meeting in Memphis.

The "Stories of the Delta" ó the people, places, and events that bring this region of the country to national attention ó form a complex yet cohesive picture of the Deltaís natural, cultural, historic, and ancient resources. These are the stories or themes related to the Delta that visitors and residents alike should understand to appreciate the impact this region has had on the formation of our national character. The stories, combined with the appropriate sites and resources to tell the stories, form the basis for the concepts found in this heritage study.

THE RIVER

The physical presence and historical development of the Mississippi River are fundamental stories of the Lower Mississippi Delta Region. The river is the defining feature that touches all aspects of life in the Delta ó settlement patterns, agriculture, music, art, literature, architecture, and the economy.

For thousands of years the Great River and its tributaries have constructed, destroyed, and redefined the physical landscape of the Delta. The river challenged human inhabitants to harness its wildness and harvest its great bounty.

Dynamic geologic and human processes changed the river over time:

THE ENVIRONMENT

Human interaction with the Delta environment varied with the diverse cultural groups that inhabited the region. Prehistoric hunting practices and settlement patterns were the first human influences on the Deltaís landscape. To a greater or lesser degree successive generations of people manipulated the Delta landscape to make the land inhabitable and to exploit its rich and abundant natural resources for trade and commerce.

DELTA CULTURES

The story of the Delta is the story of its people and its rich cultural heritage. The convergence of Native, European, African, Caribbean, Asian, and many other cultures to the Delta resulted in a complex and multilayered society.

CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS

The Lower Mississippi Delta is known world-wide for its richness of cultural expression. The blues and zydeco were born in the Delta, and gospel, ragtime, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, and country music flourished there. Delta art, architecture, folk art, and food reflect the adaptations of many people to the Deltaís physical environment and are an expression of their native or original roots, which gives the region a special sense of place.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL INFLUENCES

Social and economic systems, political movements, and government policies have a long history of shaping life in the Delta. Trade patterns, social and political institutions, and warfare of mound-building peoples predate Europeans by many centuries. The struggles caused by European migration and settlement, slavery, Native American removal, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement are only the most recent reflections of human interaction within the Mississippi River Delta.

THE DELTA AND THE NATIONAL ECONOMY

The Mississippi River system ties the region together economically. America has long used the river system as a major transportation corridor for shipping goods to international markets, as well as supplying goods to the interior of the country. The riverís value to the agricultural and petrochemical economies of the Delta and the nation is preeminent.


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