top of page



Launching Clarksdale's new African American Heritage Map

We're proud to launch Visit Clarksdale's new African American Heritage Map today!

It's been a community collaboration, and will be available for free in the Tourism office and across town. We'll share more in the coming week(s), but you can click the photos below for a sneak preview and story behind each:

Pictured are Joyce Ratliff and her daughter Zee on the steps of their family's Riverside Hotel.

The Riverside is renowned as the most blues-historic hotel in the world: it's where Bessie Smith died when it was the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital, and was transformed into a Green Book-listed hotel by Mrs. Z.L. Ratliff. Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner rehearsed the first rock-n-roll song, Rocket 88, in its basement, and it hosted everyone from Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Sam Cooke to Duke Ellington. Many fans of Clarksdale and the blues remember Joyce's husband "Rat" Ratliff well... A few weeks ago, she joined him in Heavenly Rest. We honor their family's legacy with this cover!

Here's Vera Mae Pigee introducing Constance Baker Motley at a NAACP meeting at First Baptist on 4th Street (now MLK).

Churches were integral to the civil rights movement, and Dr. Pigee was a significant leader here. This photo comes from her daughter Mary Jane Pigee's collection, courtesy of Francoise N. Hamlin. Dr. Hamlin's book Crossroads at Clarksdale: The Black Freedom Struggle in the Mississippi Delta after World War II is an incredible resource on our history (and for sale at!), and Dr. Hamlin ( has been very kind in supporting this project.

The Clarksdale Christmas Boycott: "No Parade, No Trade"

That's Vera Mae Pigee in the big hat (of course!), with Dr. Aaron Henry, Judge J.W. Wright, and students she mentored through the NAACP Youth Council. They're on the steps of First Baptist, leading the Christmas Boycott in 1961.

The boycott began in response to Black students being barred from marching in the Christmas Parade, and expanded to address injustices of segregation and Jim Crow. Some signs read "NO PARADE, NO TRADE" and "THESE STORES ARE UNFAIR TO NEGRO CUSTOMERS."

This photo was shared courtesy of Dr. Claudett Williams, a local historian who specializes in church history and curates First Baptist's archive.

Barber and bluesman Wade Walton multitasks with a customer in his old shop on 4th Street.

He was also a charter member of Clarksdale's chapter of the NAACP. This photograph was captured on Kodachrome by former Magnum Photos director Nathan Benn, when he was on assignment here for National Geographic. We were so thrilled to talk with him, and appreciate him sharing this from his archives.

To see more from his (and other NatGeo photographers'!) archive, check out his new site at

Early Wright was one of the first Black disc jockeys in the state of Mississippi, and broadcast in Clarksdale for over 50 years -- from 1947-1998.

He was known for his creative advertising patter and PSAs encouraging citizens to vote, and made WROX a hub of both blues and gospel communities. When he played blues, he was the "Soul Man;" when he played gospel, people called him "Brother Early."

This photo was shared with us courtesy of local journalist and photographer (and founder of the Tennessee Williams Festival and force behind the Sunflower Blues & Gospel Festival) Panny Flautt Mayfield.

This work is by nationally-known artist and Clarksdalian Thomas Eloby.

He painted realistic Black personalities and historic events -- and donated some of his work to the Carnegie Public Library.

This piece is privately owned by Brenda Luckett -- who was instrumental in creating our new African American Heritage Map. (She's also building Brenda's Black History Blog, which we're proud to host on Shared Experiences; more to follow...!)

THANK YOU to Ms. Luckett, Dr. Bernie Demczuk, Aallyah Wright, JoAnn Blue, Bill Sutton, Leonette Henderson, Tim Lampkin, Chandra Williams, Roger Stolle, and Bubba O'Keefe for ALL their contributions in creating Visit Clarksdale's new African American Heritage Map.

We're proud to honor such rich heritage here. And can't wait to share it with the community, and all who visit Clarksdale!

bottom of page