Front Porch essay for the Built/Unbuilt issue.
For this short “Snapshot” feature, photographers selected one of their photographs and wrote a short reflection on what it shows us about the ever-shifting relationship between people and place in the South.
In October 1967, Mississippi joined the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a Great Society program that distributed federal money to local governments across mountainous states like West Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. There’s just one problem: Mississippi lacks mountains. This article explores how segregationist Southern Democrats came together with northern liberals to reimagine and remap Mississippi as a place not reeling from the legacies of plantation slavery but merely suffering from a lack of economic development. I argue that this movement to invent “Appalachian Mississippi” countered the liberal War on Poverty’s economic empowerment of rural Black communities and tapped into larger currents of color-blind popular music. In considering the first hit song from a native of Appalachian Mississippi, Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” this article suggests that popular culture resonated with political intrigue to redistribute American wealth through the South’s white powerbrokers.
Drawing on oral history interviews, Kimber Thomas examines the resilient creativity of Black women in the Crossroads community of the Mississippi Delta during Jim Crow. Using material objects like Prince Albert tins and brown paper bags, the women defined freedom for themselves in the absence of sociopolitical freedom.