"The river bore the alluvial plain that is the Mississippi Delta, and the Delta bore fruit …"
— Luther Brown, Director, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning.

Alluvial. Roll that around on your tongue for a while. What a sensual sound. If Mississippi is alliterative, then alluvial is onomatopoeic. You can hear centuries, millennia, of water relentlessly carrying with it everything it passes. Stand in a cotton field in the Mississippi Delta, and the talc-fine soil will work its way into every pore and crease of
your skin. When you pick up a handful you’re sifting Montana through
your fingers. The Rocky Mountains are reduced to this. The river has
drained 41% of the continental U.S. for 15,000 years. Our history is – literally – deposited here.

This river is a perfect metaphor for our country’s dark closeted history. Alluvial: 4.) an accession to land by the gradual addition of matter that then
belongs to the owner of the land to which it is added.
Our history
has drained and collected in this alluvial plain, and now it belongs to
the soul of that plain. This deep fine soil and these deep fine people
have come to symbolize – and to carry as their own – the most shameful
part of this country’s past.

I do know this: You can’t heal what you won’t look at.

I’ve known far too many sanctimonious folks content to sit in their
smug banality, turn a blind eye, and let the South continue to carry
the burden of all that happened a century and a half ago. I’m not a
Confederate sympathizer. Far from it. Slavery is an immoral and
shameful practice. (I also happen to be deeply offended by the slave
labor used to perpetuate the coffee and chocolate industries. And by the quaint glorification of colonialism at amusement parks and furniture stores. But that’s another post for another day.)

The history of civil rights in this country is bathed in the blood
of Southerners. Lyndon Johnson forced passage of the 1964 Civil Rights
Act, knowing it would lose him the support of his party and ultimately
destroy his presidency. In 1922, the Klan controlled elections and
installed mayors in Portland Oregon, and in Portland Maine. LeRoy
Percy, U.S. Senator from Mississippi defeated the Klan deep in the

The Mississippi River carries more than silt. This river has washed
the nation clean of the stink of slavery, and has deposited everything
right here in the Delta. The Union sold the war on moral grounds. Just
like our invasion of Iraq was sold on moral grounds. The Union didn’t
want secession because it would mean they’d need to pay import tariffs
on the cotton and other agricultural goods that fed their mills, their
railroads, and their export businesses. Empires as grand as any
antebellum plantation: and all built on the backs of slaves. But
politicians couldn’t sell that to the public any better than they are
able to sell the real reasons we ignore Darfur and invade Iraq.

It hurts. It really hurts to own responsibility for inequity. But
until this whole nation owns the shame of what still happens every day
in the Delta, it will never heal the shame of the past. It will just
keep on washing itself clean and turning its back on the alluvial plain
of rich deep pain.