Beyond Being Black and Blue: Heritage Dissonance and the Placemaking "Most Southern" University

Authors: Rolando Herts*, The Delta Center for Culture and Learning
Topics: Tourism Geography, Regional Geography, Higher Education
Keywords: Mississippi Delta, cultural heritage tourism development, university-community engagement, African American cultural heritage, regionalism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Evergreen, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Known as "The Most Southern Place on Earth," "The Birthplace of the Blues," and "The Cradle of American Culture," the Mississippi Delta is an internationally significant cultural geography that also is known as the poorest region in the poorest state in the U.S. The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, Cleveland, Mississippi, promotes greater understanding of the region's culture and history through education, partnerships, and community engagement. While The Delta Center has received national recognition for place-based experiential learning programs highlighting the region's cultural diversity, fulfilling this mission is fraught with heritage dissonance implications (Graham, Ashworth, and Tunbridge, 2016), particularly when interpreting the Mississippi Delta's largely African American history and culture from the seat of an historically white public university. Indeed, The Delta Center's programs have interpreted diverse themes including cotton agriculture, religious expression, oral traditions, foodways, and living legacies of the Civil Rights Movement. This paper examines The Delta Center's prospects for continuing to navigate this challenging terrain, especially in light of recent, controversial White House-level interest in Blues tourism investment that is being viewed as "Trump’s effort to monetize the threadbare music invented by slaves in the Mississippi cotton fields" (O'Connell, 2017). What role should The Delta Center and other university-based entities play in addressing concerns regarding definition, ownership, and economic benefits of community-based cultural heritage tourism development in the region? How might the university's involvement illuminate placemaking narratives that advance a well-rounded, inclusive, and representative destination image for the Mississippi Delta?

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