Posts

What is: The Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale, MS

What was: Previously the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital where Bessie Smith died in 1937, it was transformed into a hotel by Mrs. Z. L. Ratliff in 1944. The Riverside Hotel opened for business in 1944. Mrs. Hill purchased the building in 1957 and it has remained in the hands of the Ratliff family to this day.

As one of the only African American hotels in Jim Crow Mississippi, it was listed in the Greenbook and played host to a Who’s Who of blues and R&B legends including Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sam Cooke whose legendary song, “A Change is Gonna Come” is believed to reference the nearby Sunflower River.” Others, including Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Robert Nighthawk, liked the place so much they moved in.

Ike Turner was living here in 1951 when he and fellow Clarksdalian Jackie Brenston wrote, rehearsed here (and then recorded at Sun Studio’s) what many consider the first rock ‘n roll song, “Rocket 88.”

It was a safe space for traveling musicians and became a community hub and the most blues-historic hotel in the world.

The Riverside Hotel is the only blues hotel that is still Black-owned in Clarksdale. But the building, which has not been operational since storm damage in April 2020, needs significant rehabilitation. The family is determined to continue to honor the legacy of their family and restore and reopen its doors.  In 2021 it was recognized as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America.

The Ratliff family is looking for donors and partnerships to ensure that this invaluable history is here for generations to come! Please donate to support its’ preservation. Source: http://www.riversideclarksdale.com/

What is: Fort Monroe, Hampton, Virginia

What was: Fort Monroe has an interesting place in American history.  In late August 1619, the first ship carrying “20 odd” enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort in Virginia, where Fort Monroe is today.  The Fort was built between 1819 and 1834 and occupied a strategic coastal defensive position since the earliest days of the Virginia Colony. During the Civil War, the Fort remained in Union possession and became a place of refuge for freedom seekers, earning the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress.”

Just six weeks after the Civil War began, three slaves – Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory – escaped from behind Confederate lines and sought refuge at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Commanding General Benjamin Butler refused to return the fugitives and declared the three men contraband of war. Soon, thousands of enslaved African Americans from all over the region descended on Fort Monroe in pursuit of freedom and sanctuary. This event fundamentally changed the meaning of the Civil War from states’ rights to the immorality of slavery, and marked the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States.  Fort Monroe became a refuge for those escaping enslavement, and was one of the first places enslaved people were granted freedom during the American Civil War.

While its location was the site of the first Africans who were traded as property, it’s also the place where — more than 240 years later — thousands of slaves found refuge and ultimately, their freedom, when Union forces did not return slaves to Confederate soldiers. Jefferson Davis was imprisoned here at the conclusion of the Civil War. Edgar Allen Poe and Harriet Tubman both spent time at Fort Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln stayed there during the assault on Norfolk, VA – the last time a sitting President was actively involved in a military campaign.

What is: Sumner, MS courthouse jury seats…Go watch Till, the movie…. opening everywhere tomorrow. Trailer here.

What was: On September 23, 1955, in a five day trial held here, an all-white male jury acquitted two other white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, of murder. The trial included missing witnesses, a sheriff proposing a conspiracy theory about whether the tortured body was really of the boy, Emmett Till, as well as lack of some key investigatory undertakings. The jury took one hour and seven minutes to reach its verdict, with one juror noting the decision could have come sooner but they were told to take some extra time to make it look good, so they went and bought some sodas. There were rumors of “reminders” and “threats” from the local white citizen council about the jury knowing its’ duty. The trial transcript and all of the evidence in the trial disappeared over the years. Years later (early 2000s) the FBI re-opened the case. They found the lost transcript.

I have a series of images related to the Emmett Till story collected here

Whoopi Goldberg on the movie. Review, Till grippingly reorients American Tragedy.

Bryants grocery store today…it sits beside a perfectly restored gas station

Where they had dug a shallow grave and hoped to bury the story

Where Moses Wright Lived and the kidnapping took place

The shed of torture

supposedly the bridge where the body was thrown away…with a gin fan hung tied. around the neck with barbed wire…as if killing and torture/lynching was not enough

Bryants Grocery

The Shed of Torture of a 14 year old boy

The shed…walk in and hear the screams of Mama…