Greenville writer David Cohn originated the much-plagiarized parameters of the Delta as starting in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and stretching all the way to Catfish Row in Vicksburg. He didn't catch the physical boundaries precisely, the northern extent of the flatness of the Delta really ends where the levee meets the Bluffs around Walls, Mississippi somewhat south of Memphis, and on the southern end, where highway 61 crosses the Yazoo River at Red Wood.
But the spirit of his definition couldn't be more accurate, letting us know right away that the Delta is much more than just a geographical place. It is a spirit, a culture. And a land of contrasts.
Bill Ferris started really observing what the rest of us just grew up seeing when he was a youngster in Vicksburg. That ability to observe gave him his career, now a professor of history at UNC, Chapel Hill and adjunct professor in the Folklore division. But before that, he was the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss. There are few people if any of us who have taken the time to step back and really look at the Delta as he has.
Dr. William Ferris: Well, the Delta has been called the most Southern place on earth. And it is a complex 3ed world experience: very wealthy and very poor people live there. It's also arguably the richest cultural area in terms of its music, its literature, its art. It has produced unbelievable worlds that are appreciated all over the globe today.
Walt: In terms of race relations, social class relations and interaction between them and the lack thereof, the play of life being lived out on a flat patchwork quilt hemmed in by the hills to the east and yearly threatened by the Mississippi River to the west, yet erupting in spits of global cultural contributions way beyond its flatness, only adds to my younger brother's observation of the complexity of the Delta as, " A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma served up in a Doe's tamale shuck."
Dr. Bill Ferris: Well, I think the Delta will always be the place in Mississippi that's best known. And most beloved and most puzzling. It's a complicated world.
Walt: And it is one of the 7 Wonders of Mississippi just for those reasons.
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