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Geography & Iconography

ntpjbusbyConflict lies at the heart of every great story, and the story of the Mississippi Hills is no different. Two separate worlds intersect and collide in the Mississippi Hills. On the one side, the Mississippi Delta, the land as flat and soft as the social hierarchies are rigid and steep. On the other side, the Southern Appalachians, where stony peaks frame the landscape and the rocky soil breeds hardy individualism. And in the middle, the Mississippi Hills absorb the impact as these two great social and geographic forces meld. The landscape crumples into gentle hills; friction from the encounter ignites sparks to the culture.

In literature, the oral traditions of Appalachian storytelling have met head-on with the grand myth of the chivalric South and the cruel reality of the plantation system. The plantation system also gave rise to the blues, themselves grown out of the field hollers, the ancient call of a rich African culture that made its way north to the Mississippi Hills. Down from the Southern Appalachians came gospel and blue grass, sprung from the fiddles of Ireland and Scotland and the hymn-singing British. And they would all converge in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the soul of a boy named Elvis who had known sorrow and hardship since birth.

For that, too, is the conflict of the Mississippi Hills: man against nature, in an agrarian state where privation has often been intense, where war ravaged the land, turning it into a “Belt of Desolation” and where a plantation economy ravenous for a low-wage work force helped to codify man’s worst impulses… which leads to our last great conflict: man idabwellsagainst himself, and the black-white divide that Elvis may have intuitively leaped, but that stretched like a chasm during dark periods of our history. Yet that conflict has also produced the sparks that lit the fires within some of the nation’s most inspiring civil rights leaders, like Ida B. Wells and James Meredith.

Crucible, cradle: it all comes together in the Mississippi Hills, and what we have made of it has changed the world. To imagine a world without our citizens and without our history is to imagine a world impoverished indeed.

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