Friday, June 25, 2010

Yazoo City, Gateway to the Mississippi Delta, and Satartia, Mississippi


Yazoo City, once the Gateway to the Delta, is situated at the transition of the two main landforms that make up Mississippi's geomorphology, the loess bluffs in the east and the flat alluvial Delta to the west. It is still the county seat of Yazoo County and is located on the banks of the Yazoo River about 40 miles northwest of Jackson. It is only about a hour's drive from Vicksburg along Highway 3, which follows the edge of the loess hills.

Yazoo City must have once been prosperous because the central business core has blocks of early 20th century commercial buildings. But it is quiet now; History Channel could have filmed an episode of Life After People here. Looking down Main Street, I can almost imagine it crowded with merchants and shoppers in a previous era. The limestone-clad Bank of Yazoo City (1876-1904) has the solid and reassuring facade that was supposed to make patrons trust the institution's solidity. Clearly it was built in an era of optimism and wealth.Why has the optimism disappeared from thousands of small American towns like this? How have we destroyed our society?

There are still a few going concerns on Main Street, but not many. Oddly, the city set up loudspeakers on the light poles which play jazz to the lonely sidewalks.
Update August 20, 2014: This is an undated post card of Main Street, from the Tichnor Collection at the Boston Public Library.

The elegant wood mansions on Jefferson Street resemble similar examples throughout the mid-west. I recall Indianapolis having hundreds of magnificent houses like this.

The house in the photograph above is the Oakes African American Cultural Center at 312 West Monroe Street. It is on the Mississippi Heritage Trust's 2009 list of most endangered historic places.

The owners may have done some work recently to preserve the structure, but in 2009, the Heritage Trust was concerned about it's survival:

"In 1884, their son, A.J., founded Oakes Academy, a private school for blacks, and served as principal for the next 16 years. He resigned in 1900 to work full-time for the Oakes Lumber Company and his construction company, which helped rebuild Yazoo City after a 1904 fire destroyed much of the town. The fire did not reach his company, nor did it climb the hill to the Oakes House, thus allowing it to remain in its original state. By 1930, the one-room structure had grown to a two-story home with Colonial Revival detailing, including a wrap-around two-story gallery supported by Tuscan columns.

Currently the Oakes House is being used as a museum that not only tells the history of the Oakes family, but it also tells of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in Yazoo County and the State of Mississippi. In the 1990's, an intense project helped restore the leaded-glass entrance doors, original mantels, chimneys, walls, and stairs."

The Bethel AME church, also on South Monroe, is a fine example of church architecture.



Entering town from the west, you drive up West Broadway, which is Hwy. 149. The scene is pretty grim. The commercial block is deserted except for package and cig. stores, which on Saturday do a booming business. Beer & Butts.....
The Amtrak train from Chicago comes through Yazoo City and stops here. I took the sleeper from Chicago in June of 2006 and was a bit surprised how many people disembarked here and in Greenwood. There once must have been a depot but am not sure of its fate or whereabouts.

The photograph above, taken through the train window, shows the station in Greenwood, but the scene in Yazoo City is similar.

Please click the link to see my coverage of the historic Afro-American Sons and Daughters Hospital, also in Yazoo City and now deserted and collapsing.

Heading south on Hwy 3, the town of Satartia is also pretty quiet, and the convenience store is closed.


Of interest to archaeologists are the Indian burial mounds off Satartia Road between Satartia and Holly Bluff. One is tree-covered, and on the rainy day when a group and I visited the site, the rain had washed out numerous pottery shards. Another mound has a modern home on it. There is a lot to see in the Delta, and I need to do a lot more exploring.

Photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera or a compact Fuji F31fd.

24 comments:

  1. Yazoo City was the town where I grew up. In the 1950's and even 1960's there was no finer small town in America for a boy to live.
    The downtown was full of shops and stores, and every Saturday people from the whole region came to town to shop and enjoy themselves.

    Several things have happened to the town over the years that were not good. Now there are even shootings and robberies on Grand Avenue, once the finest residential area in the town.

    It truly makes me sad to drive through the town today.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yazoo isn't what it used to be, but it's still a great place to live. There's no place I'd rather be.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I also grew up in Yazoo City during the 1960's. The down town area was full of people on Saturdays. Very safe and no trash. I would ride my bike all over town. Grand ave was lined with well kept homes. Today the high school has metal detectors, wire mesh everywhere and very few student clubs except for the various African American clubs. White flight took hold and Yazoo City became crime ridden and rundown houses.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We traveled through Yazoo City 3 years ago. We spent the whole day shopping & talking with folks about their heritage. At that time the city was fixing up the streets & sidewalks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I worked in Yazoo City back in 1988 on a film. The town wasn't huge, but it had a good vibe. I kept in touch with some of the people I met there for years, but as time goes by we've lost contact. i've often thought of returning. There was something really nice about Yazoo. Maybe I'll head back this year to check it out again.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I feel so lucky to have been born and raised in Yazoo City. There was no nicer small town in the 70s and 80s, and my dad tells me it was even better in the 50s and 60s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was but the Federal Government destroyed Yazoo not by integration but by the way they handled the situation. It should have been a gradual process starting with the lower grades and moving through high school. However, the federal government without regard to the culture of the South shut down all of the Black Schools and forced them to attend all White schools. This is in the time when Blacks and Whites had never engaged in any activity and did not understand each other. This forced white flight due to fear. The government accomplished absolutely nothing. Their actions resulted in mostly white private schools and black public schools. Many Yazoo residents left Yazoo City due to the lack of jobs. There were very few companies willing to move to Yazoo City. They did; however, get a prison. So sad to see such a beautiful city go to ruins.

      Delete
  7. I was born (3/19/1925) and raised in Yazoo City... a happening that I have proud of for 87 years and still going.
    Times were hard way back then, but got a little better, and then WW2 came along and took the lives of many, and turned the lives of all the rest of us upside down.
    It is so sad to drive thru' town now, and see the loss of all of what we had back then.
    Life sure can get tedious!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is what Eastland and the rest were trying to warn us about in the 60's, integration would force out the middle class whites. And, they were right. Some people are okay with that but then the same people scratch their heads at the obvious consequence. Very often you hear them say, "The Delta is poor....." Stop them right there. The Delta is not poor. The geographical place, The Delta, is rich. It is the current tenants living there that are just stupid, lazy, and hold a set of "values" that keep them that way. They would move away if the welfare checks were delivered to another spot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a current Yazoo City resident, born and raised in the Delta, thank you. You hit the nail on the head, especially about the mentality of people-instead of temporary help, some people make a living off of welfare, having more babies when they don't even have a job!!!! I really regret that I bought a home here!!!

      Delete
  9. For those who think that the "Whites" are the only group of people who can help with the upkeep of Yazoo are the stupid and lazy people. Look that the majority of people that hold offices in Yazoo City and you will see exactly why the quaint little town has not prospered. I agree the people need to have more care and concern of the place they call home. But when people are voted into office and are more interested in receiving a check than the upkeep of the town; Yazoo City is what you get. So if you do not like what you see; do something about it. Since most of you think that African American contributes to the downfall of the town. The current tenants are not stupid but rather need guidance and I personally do not think welfare checks have anything to do with where a person lives. So you are actually the stupid. lazy person for making such a lame comment. Yazoo City can be prosperous again if the right people were in office and enforce the town and state regulations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you mean "whites" are the politicians only after a paycheck, look again at all of our boards, we are NOT the majority that holds offices here in Yazoo!! Mississippi has a LARGE percentage of people unemployed and on government assistance, especially here in the Delta. Nobody works and they will tell you they are not going to work because they would lose their benefits(taken directly from the mouths of over 100 people that I personally have interview(gov job). Not everybody has this attitude but these same young people are having 6, 7 or more babies, with no intention of going to work!!! Taxpayers are fed up, but what can we do? The government is always going to take care of the needy, even the lazy bums who could work! These lazy bums are the ones who are voting for the crooks in office!!!!

      Delete
    2. I am glad that you are one of the few there with a job, but you can't criticize someone for not having a job, if no one is creating any work around the area. Unfortunately I was one of many that had to part ways with Yazoo City. I love that town, but unless something is done to bring business there, Yazoo will keep declining. I wish that I could help. All of my family still lives there. My wife and I both make over 6 figures, and I don't see us leaving that to come there to try and make a difference. So for you to live there and just complain, don't you think that you could also be apart of the problem. It's like that old saying " if you are not going to shit - then get off of the pot."

      Delete
  10. Yazoo City is like many towns in Mississippi and accross the U.S.. The current occupants of the town are mired in generational dependency. The cult of victimization has long taken hold. Academic achievement and true learning is not only scarce it it often ridiculed. Personal accountability and traditional family environments are virtually uknown. The question exist are these individuals capable of maintaining and enhancing a civilization, or is this but a picture of the U.S. as a whole in the years to come.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This IS a picture of thousands of cities and towns across the United States. Look at Detroit, New Orleans, Flint, San Bernardino, and innumerable towns in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan.It is horrifying, and I have no idea what will bring them back - what will make Americans have optimism and pride in their towns and homes again. One of the best records of decay is "Detroit: An American Autopsy" by Charlie LeDuff. It is just horrifying.

      Delete
  11. I also grew up in Yazoo County. I am proud of that fact but I am ashamed of the way it is ran by the Politicians. The crime rate is what it is because the Yazoo County Judicial system is seemingly corrupt. You know "small town politics. Lazy police officers and uncaring deputies lazy judges and the old "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours. If the person who commits the crime knows or is kin to any one of them they get off scott free. On another note, I like the way they are fixing up Main Street.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, right on about the lazy police!! When I was robbed in my own private office(only coworkers had access), they never even investigated it, never even returned my phone calls! ONLY When I threatened to go to the mayor, did an officer contact me, but still they never did anything. Just told me to tell my coworkers(suspects) that they were going to bring in a lie detector test, that maybe by telling them that, the thief would return my wallet and $1700. Of course they didn't!!! If I had $1700 worth of drugs stolen from my desk, I bet the police would be all over it!!!!

      Delete
  12. I was raised in Yazoo and lived there most of my adult life and often stated that I would never live anywhere else, but I now live in Brandon, Ms. and realize I got out of Yazoo at the right time, it has gone so far down and nothing will ever bring it back and I hate it because it will always be HOME to me. I still have relatives that live there and I don't know how they stomach what has become of the once quaint town...

    ReplyDelete
  13. I was raised in Yazoo county (Satartia to be exact). In you post, it said the convenience store in Satartia is closed....Well, to be exact, the store that is closed is out on the highway. Or should I say on the out skirts of Satartia. The town of Satartia has a store called the Satartia Grocery and it is alive and well and they serve hot plate lunches M-F. If you would like more info on Satartia, please, go to my face book page because I love this little town and it is very much alive and well. Melinda Creech Dees. Check out the REAL SATARTIA on my fb page today. 3/31/14

    ReplyDelete
  14. I was raised in Yazoo City, and have lived here the past 40 plus years. I have seen our little town as a child and young person thinking it is the best place in the world to live. As a child and adolescent it was a safe place were my family never worried about my safety, as I was always out and about somewhere in our quiet little town. As an adult I became a Law Enforcement Officer, and swore to protect and serve my community. I've seen many things in my career good and bad, the bad all have one common factor in my opinion, the lack of self respect without which one can't respect anyone or anything. If a child was raised with self worth, that child would want to make good grades, graduate from high school, continue their education and become a self supporting adult who contributes back to their community. Our community leaders are also to blame, instead of trying to better our community they are simply drawing a pay check. The people need to stop electing leaders on the buddy system and elect people who are wanting the job for the best interest of our little town. We don't need more free stuff from our government, we need more education for our young people and jobs for them when they graduate. I hope that one day this little town will be as nice as I remember it from my childhood.

    ReplyDelete
  15. What is the answer?

    ReplyDelete
  16. My mother and her parents grew up in Yazoo City. I lived in Chicago where my mom met my dad. We used to spend summers there at my grandparents' home in the 50s and 60s. We'd also would stay a couple weeks with my grandmother's brother in the country where he had a watermelon farm. Those were the best years of my life. I remember "going to town" which was Main Street and always busy. Piggly wiggly was a vibrant grocer there. It was safe and quiet little city. I have so many fond memories. I can't believe that it's in the condition it is. So very sad.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I want to buy a house in Yazoo City. Is the crime rate as bad as Detroit?

    ReplyDelete