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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Blues Development Prognostication in 1990s - Skip on Point

[This historic article from the MZMF archives reveals so much about what could have developed in the Delta. As opposed to a thriving retail center that provides jobs and space for charities and community outreach groups, museum exhibits occupy such spaces and a bar, Ground Zero, drives the downtown district.  On the very farm where the tractor was invented, a nostalgia-driven series of shotguns houses invokes the rural past and a couple of bars hire a few locals. Not too many folks worry about the potential of blues tourism...then again, things could be in better shape....the cemetery at Lyon, the segregated cemetery with one half in pristine condition called Shufordville Cemetery--one side has manicured landscaping and a fence protecting the grave markers and the other is covered with years of dead weeds, fallen trees, trash, dead and burnt foliage, among much more stuff--containing the graves of John Wrencher and Henry "Son" Simms is plain disgusting...go visit...see for yourself...TDM 2017]

Dear Editor,
Skip Henderson in 2012
I would like to thank the (Clarksdale, MS) Press Register for its coverage of plans for the development of downtown district, and take this opportunity to add a few items to the discussion. During my frequent visits to Clarksdale I am always struck by, the same impression, that of disbelief from local residents who express lingering doubt as to the actuality of Clarksdale becoming a 'tourist attraction.' Allow me to try to bring a little light to the subject. In 1991 a book called The Promised Land by Nicholas Lehmann, was published, to great acclaim. This nationally bestselling book spotlights Clarksdale as one of the most historically significant cities in America. Now a best-selling video and paperback, this book appears on college and university lists all over the country.

Clarksdale gave birth in 1944 to the first mechanized cotton picking operation, an enormous contribution to world agriculture. This development would in turn trigger the largest population shift in American history. It was during this perk' that the essential American musical art form of the Blues was sent from the Delta, focused directly through Clarksdale, to Memphis, Chicago, and the world.

Early Wright giving out the Early Wright Award to Skip in 1993
The fact that Highway 61 and Highway 49 intersect in Clarksdale is central to Blues legend, making the crossroads literally a Mecca for Blues fans the world over. Add to this the fact that Clarksdale has a proximity to Memphis International Airport connected by an enlarged and modernized Highway 61., a willing and supportive State tourism organizations, world-wide recognition of The Delta Blues Museum; the legacy of Tennessee Williams to American literature; the list could be ever longer.

This brings me back, finally, to the subject of the Clarksdale Station project. Train stations are by definition places of wide public accommodation, and so it will he with Clarksdale Station, only taken a few steps further.

Clarksdale Station will hold a professional sound stage. “This facility will be made available to any Church or civic group wishing to produce benefit performances, fundraising events, or local programs. Clarksdale Station in turn, will offer floor space to such groups as the Delta Blues Museum, Care Station, Public Library, Habitat for Humanity, or other groups wishing to hold membership drives, distribute literature, or do fund raising. Amidst polished marble in the newly restored structure, one banner will hang from the ceiling, with only two words. It will be hung in Clarksdale as a symbol of pride, for visitors from all over the world to see. It will read simply, Honor Mississippi.

The Delta possesses a unique wealth of history and cultural identity unmatched anywhere else in the world; and identity not simply white or black but most essentially, and honorably, Southern.

The dedication of Charley Patton's marker - 1991
As the principal developer in the Clarksdale Station project I can state to a fairly accurate degree that as of 1996 Clarksdale Station will be hiring people in food and beverage services, retail sales, security, management, state and concert production, musicians, drivers, guides, and other tourism related positions. This will be thanks in large part to the leadership of the Coahoma County Board of Supervisors, County Tourism Commission and the City of Clarksdale, in recognizing the real potential that tourism holds for the economic growth of Coahoma County.

Thank you very much, 

Skip Henderson, founder MZMF
Sept 1995