Arkansas and Mississippi Delta Heritage
What is the Delta?
The Delta is part of the alluvial plain of the Mississippi River. Alluvial plains are created by the deposit of sediment (like dirt or sand) by rivers. These plains are the flat land you see in river regions,including floodplains. The flat land of the Delta is also influenced by other streams and rivers, such as the Arkansas, St. Francis, White, and Yazoo Rivers. The downside of the Delta is that it is prone to flooding and poor drainage. The upside is that the Mississippi Alluvial Plain is one of the most "agriculturally productive regions in the world."1
Where is the Delta?
The Delta is an area of land located around the Mississippi River and includes portions of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Arkansas Delta contains 15 counties in Eastern Arkansas: Arkansas, Chicot, Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Desha, Drew, Greene, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, and St. Francis. The Delta also includes parts of Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Lonoke, Prairie, Pulaski, Randolph, White, and Woodruff counties. The Mississippi Delta (or Yazoo-Mississippi Delta) includes 14 counties in Western Mississippi: Bolivar, Carroll, Coahoma, Humphreys, Issaquena, Leflore, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Warren, and Washington. It also includes parts of De Soto, Grenada, Holmes, Panola, and Yazoo. In the Louisiana, the Delta includes 12 counties (called parishes in Louisiana): Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, LaSalle, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, and West Carroll.
What makes the Delta unique?
The area is mostly rural with rich, fertile soil. Up to 60% of the Delta is used as farmland. Its fertile soil, temperate climate, and extended growing seasons produces much of the U.S.'s rice, soybeans, sugar cane, feed grains, and cotton.2 The Mississippi portion of the Delta attracted many cotton plantation owners, bringing with them a large number of enslaved African Americans. After the Civil War, the area remained mostly underdeveloped with many African Americans turning to sharecropping in order to survive under the harsh realities of Jim Crow laws. This mixture of isolation, agriculture, poverty, and racial turmoil has created a unique culture that historian James C. Cobb has called the "most southern place on earth."3 The most famous example of Delta culture is music. When enslaved people were brought from Africa, they brought their musical traditions with them. This music was later mixed with more popular and folk music,4 creating new sounds to express the pain of the hardships they endured, leading to the birth of both the blues and rock and roll music.
To help you learn more about what makes the Delta unique, we have compiled resources together in this guide. Use the tabs at the top of the guide to navigate to different subjects and resource types.
1. Stroud, H. (2018). Mississippi Alluvial Plain. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/mississippi-alluvial-plain-444/
2. National Park Service. (2017) The Natural Environment: The Delta and Its Resources. https://www.nps.gov/locations/lowermsdeltaregion/the-natural-environment-the-delta-and-its-resources.htm.
3. Cobb, J. (1992) The most southern place on earth: The Mississippi Delta and the roots of regional identity. Oxford University Press.
4. Library of Congress. (1998). Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival: A Local Legacy. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/es/ms/es_ms_blues_1.html.
Special thanks to
Mary Sitzer for her research and assistance.