Monday, July 20, 2015

The University of Mississippi Panel

Skip Henderson, founder of the Mt Zion Memorial Fund (MZMF) and Steven Salter, president of the Killer Blues Headstone Project (KBHP) sat down at the Oxford Blues Festival on the campus of the University of Mississippi to answer questions pertaining to the unmarked graves of blues musicians, their respective experiences locating and preserving rural and urban cemeteries, and the different missions that serve as the driving force behind the cemetery organizations. According to Salter, one of Henderson's comments offered an apt summation of the differences between the two organizations: "Killer Blues takes care of the people who make the blues while [the Mt Zion Memorial Fund] takes care of the people who cause the blues." Having installed 51 grave markers, Salter and the KBHP have experienced substantial growth and achieved a new height of success after seven years. The MZMF, having initiated several legal maneuvers and erected thirteen markers and headstones to protect African American cemeteries in Mississippi, looks forward to continuing its work in the Magnolia State. Henderson reported that the new grave marker and commemorative bench for the grave of Sam Chatmon in Hollandale should be finished and installed in the fall.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Killer Blues and Mt. Zion Memorial Fund

(L to R) Steven Salter, president of the Killer Blues Headstone Project (KBHP); DeWayne Moore, executive director of the Mt Zion Memorial Fund(MZMF); and Skip Henderson, founder of the MZMF.

The directors of two organizations came together on the morning of July 18, 2015 for a panel discussion at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi to kick off the 6th annual Oxford Blues Festival. Steve Salter answered a host of questions concerning, among other topics, 1) how the KBHP marked 51 unmarked graves of blues musicians since its incorporation in 2008, 2) the problems that explain why that number should be as high as 54, and 3) how the institutional origins of the KBHP inspired its limited fundraising efforts. 

Henderson talked about the endeavors of the MZMF to save rural, black cemeteries in Mississippi, which stemmed from its first headstone projects in the 1990s. Working strictly in Mississippi, the MZMF encountered a host of issues that were not too much of a problem in the more urban realm of the KBHP, such as non-existent plot maps and aggressive agricultural developers. In contrast, whereas the highest expense of KBHP projects was often installation fees in urban cemeteries, which sometimes cost more than the headstone itself, the MZMF rarely encountered exorbitant cemetery fees, having often paid no fees whatsoever to place the markers of such blues musicians as Big Joe Williams in Crawford, Mississippi.