What is: Po’ Monkey’s was founded by Willie Seaberry in 1963, and was one of the last rural juke joints in the Mississippi Delta, wedged between a cotton field and a gravel road just over a mile west of Merigold, Mississippi.
What was: The shack was originally sharecroppers’ quarters. The building is made of tin and plywood, held together by nails, staples, and wires, loosely fashioned and made by Seaberry. Seaberry was best known for his strangely coordinated outfits of wildly exotic pantsuits. He could be seen sneaking out of bar room, into a bedroom offset of the drinking quarters, only to reappear in a new pantsuit. Seaberry was found dead on July 14, 2016. Po’ Monkey’s ceased operating after Seaberry’s death. The contents, including Christmas lights, signs and X-rated toy monkeys that hung from the ceiling, were auctioned off in 2018. The PORCH (Preservation of Rural Cultural Heritage) Society and Shonda Warner acquired them and hope to maintain the collection in a way that continues to bring it to life.
Po’ Monkey’s gained international fame as one of the most important cultural sites related to blues and American music. The club was typical of modern juke joints in that it rarely featured live entertainment, although it sometimes did. Often instead, Seaberry played recorded music, typically soul and R&B, using a DJ or a jukebox, and patrons danced, mingled, or shot pool. He had a strict rule against playing rap music, which he claimed he detested. Other rules included No loud music, no dope smoking.” Beer was to be purchased inside, but customers could bring in their own liquor.
Classic juke joints are found at rural crossroads and catered to the rural work force that began to emerge after the emancipation. Plantation workers and sharecroppers needed a place to relax and socialize following a hard week, particularly since they were barred from most white establishments by Jim Crow laws. Set up on the outskirts of town, often in ramshackle, abandoned buildings or private houses — never in newly-constructed buildings — juke joints offered food, drink, dancing and gambling for weary workers.