Emily Williams column 8-31-12

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 31, 2012

In our tiny corner of ‘land mass’ lies rich cultural tradition

As I write this column we are awaiting a hurricane named Isaac, also remembering a hurricane named Katrina that shredded the coast of Mississippi seven years ago this week.

Sunday the Weather Channel made a reporting boo-boo in their coverage of the hurricane’s projected path when they referred to our state as a “land mass between Mobile and Louisiana.”

I didn’t see the report, but I can understand how Mississippians took this personally, especially with the anniversary of Katrina lurking.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In the social media uproar that followed Sunday, the original Weather Channel footage was removed from the internet.

I saw post after post on Facebook sending messages to The Weather Channel.

The following post by Russell Latino got over 35,000 “likes.”

“The ‘land mass between New Orleans and Mobile’ has a rich and complicated history. It gave birth to the Blues & Rock-n-Roll. Maybe you’ve heard of Elvis, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. The ‘land mass between New Orleans and Mobile’ inspired and cultivated the likes of Faulkner, Welty, Ambrose, Percy, Foote & Grisham. Of course, you needn’t pick up a book, because this land mass is full of great storytellers who need only a porch & a glass of sweet tea.”

The Clarion Ledger had a fine commentary, “We Are Much More than a Land Mass.”

Beauty in our own back yard

Last weekend I was personally on cloud nine after attending the Otha Turner Picnic near Como. I was unaware of the ruckus the Weather Channel had caused because I was so deep into the beauty of the state and culture that was literally in my own backyard.

Out in the sticks between Como and Senatobia is a place where the grandchildren of North Mississippi music legend Otha Turner celebrate their heritage with an annual picnic that has been taking place for 50 years.

Turner died in 2003, but his music legacy lives on.

Last Friday my four-year-old son Bailey and I gathered up our bongos, harmonica and camera and headed to the picnic to witness this beautiful celebration.

I was thrilled that Bailey made friendships with people like blues artist R.L. Boyce and his favorite, Sharde Thomas, leader of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band.

Bailey made a few dollars playing his harmonica for other blues fans and he also had a very long conversation over fish sandwiches with R.L. Boyce.

(He will be getting a new drum set for Christmas.)

For the picnic each year, the women in the Otha Turner family handle the kitchen, cooking fried catfish sandwiches and goat sandwiches while other family members handle parking for the tourists.

Otha Turner Picnic Day

Como Mayor Everette Hill read a proclamation before the celebration started, declaring August 24 as Otha Turner Picnic Day.

Otha taught his granddaughter, Sharde Thomas, how to play the fife when she was 13.

Sharde is now 22 and leads the Rising Star Band Turner founded.

In 1998 Turner released a critically acclaimed album, “Everybody Hollerin’ Goat.”

The title refers to a tradition Turner began in the late 1950s, hosting Labor Day picnics where he would personally butcher and cook a goat in an iron kettle, and his band would provide musical entertainment.

The picnic began as a neighborhood and family gathering; it grew over the years to attract music fans, first from Memphis and later from all over the world.

Attention continues to be attracted to our little corner of the “land mass” that is Mississippi, home to the Hill Country Blues.

I’ve attended celebrations for the installations of  Blues Trail markers in Como, and for the acquisition of important blues archives from the Alan Lomax Collection, by the Como Public Library.

In 2009 I met my favorite female musician, Bonnie Raitt, who came to Como to unveil a blues marker for Mississippi Fred McDowell who was an influence in her early life.
Blues and more

The blues isn’t all that comes from Mississippi.

Last week I was honored to meet  Olympic athlete Mildrette Nevette White and her husband, Willie White, who both graduated from Alcorn State and now live in Grenada.

Mildrette won gold in the 1972 Mexico City Olympics in the 4×100 relay. She visited Finch-Henry Job Corps Center last week.

Proud of SP classmate

I am proud to say I attended school with Deshea Townsend, who played 12 years with the Steelers in the NFL.  He has now given back to our community with football camps and other volunteer work with the youth.

In 2007 I met photographer Paul Saltzman who spent time with the Beatles in India and took some of the most intimate photos of their experience.

He was here in Batesville filming a documentary after actor Morgan Freeman paid for a high school prom in his hometown, Charleston.

Right here in Batesville we have Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached in 1968, shortly before his death. From that historic church at the corner of Hoskins Rd.  and Panola Ave. the community’s MLK Day march begins each year.

Regarding the Weather

Channel’s “land mass” reference, I agree with the Clarion Ledger.
“We are much more.”