The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area
This document describes the creation and benefits of a federally recognized Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MDNHA) as part of the National Park Service. The MDNHA was created when President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 on March 30, 2009. For a map of the new Heritage Area, click here.
Heritage Areas are defined by the National Park Service as being places “where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.”
The Mississippi Delta is such a place. The Delta is a clearly defined geographic entity with an easily recognized border. In many ways, its stories are the American story.
The Delta was swamp wilderness only a hundred years ago. It was rapidly cleared for cotton and plantation life, and peopled by Black and White sharecroppers and land owners, including immigrants from the rest of the US, Europe, and Asia. It became the source of “The Great Migration” north, and thus the family home of many living today in northern cities, like Chicago and Detroit. It is the home of the Blues, and Gospel and fried catfish and hushpuppies. It was home to Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright , Clifton Taulbert, Shelby Foote, and Hodding Carter, and stomping grounds of William and John Faulkner, James Cobb and John Barry, to name just a few. It is where Teddy Roosevelt saved the original “Teddy Bear,” and where Elvis Presley learned to dance and sing. It is the land where Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson wrote the lyrics that stimulated the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and everyone else from The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin to The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the White Stripes.
The Delta is a major source of American popular culture. The Blues and Gospel were born in the Delta, but spread along with our migrating population to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, and over the airwaves to London and Tokyo. Jazz, Soul, Bluegrass, Rock ‘n Roll, Rap, and Hip Hop all incorporated the sounds of the Delta. The great flood of 1927 changed American politics and attitudes about the proper role of government. More recently, the region was the scene of the struggles and triumphs of the civil rights movement, with Delta citizens leading the way to our modern integrated society while giving America the moral high ground in World human rights issues.
The Delta is also a land of scenic beauty. The Mississippi River is one of the greatest geological forces in the World. It demarcates the most important migratory flyway in North America, and is bounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, much of which is managed for wildlife and hunting. Lesser rivers criss-cross the Delta providing scenic vistas, cypress swamps, and sloughs. Vast working farms cover the landscape with thousands of acres of cotton, soybeans and rice.
The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area will truly be a place “where natural, cultural, historic and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.” The culture of the Delta is regionally distinctive while also being one of the principle forces shaping modern American culture. The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area will be the place where America can discover Delta culture and explore its consequences to the world.
The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area has been created by federal legislation, linking the Delta to the National Park Service. This action will benefit the entire Delta in diverse ways.
Legislation creating the MDNHA also defined and enabled the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area Partnership to coordinate the MDNHA's actions. The mission of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area Partnership is to foster partnerships and educational opportunities that enhance, preserve and promote the heritage of the Mississippi Delta. Our goal will be to represent all the people of the Delta and their interests and needs. We want to insure a balanced and sustainable approach to community and economic development and social transformation. The Partnership will create links between the people and institutions of the Delta that will promote those activities that improve, protect, and advance the understanding of the Delta's important past and its contributions to the American story.
Establishment of the MDNHA will stimulate the local economy by stimulating heritage tourism. The National Trust for Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Fact Sheet states:
“Cultural heritage tourism means traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present. It includes irreplaceable historic, cultural and natural resources.
What benefits does cultural heritage tourism offer? Tourism is big business. In 2001, travel and tourism contributed $537.2 billion to the U.S. economy. Travel and tourism is the third largest retail industry in the U.S. behind automotive dealers and food stores. Travel and tourism directly employs more than 7.9 million people and indirectly supports another 10.1 million jobs, creating a total of 18 million jobs - that's 1 of every 7 people in the U.S. (Source: 2002 Tourism Works for America Report).
In addition to creating new jobs, new business and higher property values, well-managed tourism improves the quality of life and builds community pride. According to a 2001 Report on Cultural and Historic Tourism, visitors to historic sites and cultural attractions stay longer and spend more money than other kinds of tourists. Cultural and heritage visitors spend, on average, $631 per trip compared to $457 for all U.S. travelers, and they spend and average of 4.7 nights away from home as compared to 3.4 nights for all other travelers. (Source: Travel Industry Association of America). Perhaps the biggest benefits of cultural heritage tourism, though, are diversification of local economies and preservation of a community's unique character.”
In short, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area will benefit the region by
And it will do these things while informing the rest of America of the importance of the Mississippi Delta to the American story.
For more information about the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, click here.
updated April, 2011