I recently visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, while on a trip to the South with my father and younger brother. This visit was our final stop of the trip; and, it couldn’t have been more fitting to end our experience (but, not our journey) where the dreamer was slain. See, we made the trip to take my Dad on a pilgrimage of sorts, to feel the Delta Blues-“Ground Zero” of American music-the Crossroads where the legend of Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. The blues, a music borne out of oppression, gives voice to every emotion known to man; and, produces all modern day American music.
My father is a lover of music; and, particularly the blues. This trip was a birthday present from my brother and me, thanking him for his guidance in music, to be sure; but, overwhelmingly thanking him for his guidance as a father, a teacher, a leader. Kind of like our Moses.
We experienced Delta Blues culture intimately, through the numerous people we met, the music we felt, the food we ate; and, the history we heard. It is a history that haunts southern culture to this day: a history of brutality, white supremacy, slavery, sharecropping, lynching, raping and immense poverty. In 2017, the south has most definitely not “risen again”. Clarksdale, Mississippi has a population of about 17,000 people: 80% African-American, 20% Caucasian; 35% poverty rate; $25,948 median household income; double-digit unemployment. (U.S. Census, 2015). The disparity is highlighted by numerous abandoned buildings throughout town; while several new boutique restaurants, motels and clubs have popped up.
I mention all of this because it cannot be denied that there is much work to do. In Clarksdale. In the South. In America. Yet, experiencing Delta Blues culture also showed me that there is beauty in Clarksdale. There is a sense of community in the Blues scene in Clarksdale that is unlike anything I have ever experienced. People live together and support each other, despite racial, economic or political differences. There are disagreements, to be sure. However, the shared experience of the Delta Blues truly does bring people together. The music provides the beauty in this community.
As we took in a set at Red’s Juke Joint on Saturday night, the torch bearer of Clarksdale’s blues scene, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod was shining bright. At 31 years old, he is at least one, if not three, generations younger than the guys who brought him up and laid the foundation of the Delta Blues. As I listen, Dr. King’s question is ringing in my ears: “Where do we go from here?”
The same question can be echoed as I think about my Dad and what he has instilled in my brother and me. The same question can be echoed again as I exit the National Civil Rights Museum, following the silhouette of marchers, back out into the world. President Obama once said that “…just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on for all of you, the Joshua Generation, for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.”
Herein I find my answer. Just as “Big A” stands on the shoulders of giants; so too, do I. Moreover, we all do. The work is not done. The march continues. The music keeps playing. And, the dream lives on… “And, we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Genesis 37:20