Ecologically speaking, the Mississippi Delta is the vast alluvial plain between Cairo and the Gulf of Mexico, but “The Delta” of popular myth is much more circumscribed, occupying the 250- mile-long realm of King Cotton, between Memphis and Vicksburg. As important as its proper boundaries is its legacy as the cradle of nearly every American musical style from gospel, blues, and jazz to country and rock ’n’ roll. The backbone of our route, US-61, is also legendary as the path of the “Great Migration,” the mass exodus to the industrialized northern United States of some five million black sharecroppers in the decades after World War I.
As the Great River Road cuts inland and drops like a plumb line across the cotton fields, we recommend a number of side trips to landmarks of this rich cultural heritage. Where the Delta ends at Vicksburg’s bluffs, our route begins mingling with ghosts from the South’s plantation and Civil War past, then finally rolls into Louisiana.
All across Mississippi, away from the main roads on the sleepier section of the GRR, the towns are filled with shotgun shacks, low-slung Creole-style bungalows, and old trailers that some people have nicknamed “doghouses” without any attempt at irony. What look like oil drums mounted on garden carts in the odd front yard are smokers, for doing barbecue just right; their presence sometimes implies the proximity of a social club or juke joint that may do only weekend business. Local stores, if they exist, are where men in overalls sit and stand in clusters, keeping an eye on the world. In autumn when the cotton is ready for harvest, huge truck-sized bales sit in the cleared muddy margins of the fields, and white fluff accumulates in drifts on the narrow loose shoulder, swirling in small eddies in your wake.
Meanwhile the Mississippi River does its snaky shuffle off to the Gulf of Mexico behind a continuous line of levees, a bayou here and cut-off lake there as proof of past indirections.