This video project is a representation of my ongoing project entitled When Morning Comes. It is a reflection of life in the Mississippi Delta and a testament to the dignity and grace of those souls carrying the back-breaking legacy of the Delta’s rural communities as they strive to pave their own course through history. For three years I have sought to discover light in a dark place and have witnessed signs of strength against struggle, humility amidst pride, and a promise for deliverance in the lives that I have come to know.
I see the flight of childhood innocence grounded by the scars of life hard lived, the strength of a single man while acknowledging the machine that replaced thousands, a fist of power born from the chains that bound it, a living room tribute to a symbolic president, and a toppled white king in a conquered game of chess. These representations of racial struggle and its social and economic achievements are reminders of the story of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Founded in 1887 it is America’s oldest African American settlement.
“Why stagger at the difficulties that confront you,” proclaimed its founder, Isaiah T. Montgomery, as he strove to ignite his men in their first year. “Have you not for centuries braved the miasma and hewn down forests at the command of your master? Can you not do it for yourselves and your children unto successive generations, that they may worship and develop under their own vine and fig tree?”
These words took the dreams of enslaved generations and turned them into a reality filled with bankers, doctors, and lawyers. Booker T. Washington and President Theodore Roosevelt heralded the town as being a “shining example of black achievement.” Though, while it once basked in the American Dream, its present day economic decline – like that of many agriculturally based Delta towns - has long threatened to overshadow its past.
It is this duality of triumph and decline, and the simple beauty of daily life that exists in between its fabric, that draws me to Mound Bayou and to the villages of the greater Delta. But this is not a story solely centered upon the region's plight. It is a celebration in faith and perseverance, one that’s chorus is sung in every clapboard church across its land.
“By and by, when the morning comes,
When the saints of God are gathering home.
We will tell the story how we've overcome,
We will understand it better by and by”
As economies crawl, walk, pace, and sprint toward development their strides are perched upon the backbones of men. It is the marrow of those bones - the vibration of that spirit - that drives the citizens of Mound Bayou and those of the greater Delta to endure. And it is this collective spirit that I seek to evoke in my work.