New Hope Missionary Baptist Church
7564 Norfolk Rd, Walls, MS 38680
N 34° 57′ 45.606”
W 90° 11′ 4.432′
It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting or wanting the Mississippi Delta to be frozen in time so that you can have a very specific experience. Just look at almost any depiction of it in popular culture. As Anthony Bourdain pointed out in his episode of Parts Unknown there, it’s reductive, insulting, and damaging to the area.
I’m just as guilty of it as the rest of the world. The picture perfect ideal in my head for this trip was my drive down Money Road to Little Zion Baptist Church and the grave of a black man who art has been appropriated and exploited by white performers, who never got to see any real “success” in life. I knew all of this and I went anyway. And while I was there, it did take on have an other-worldly feel, though. And I’m torn between shouting it from the roof tops because I loved it so much and discouraging everyone I meet from going just so help it maintain this version of itself, and isn’t any more over run by tourists. I grew up in a small southern town, but even still it felt a million miles away and completely like home, all at once. This became more and more apparent as the trip progressed over the few days.
On day two I went in search of Memphis Minnie’s grave.
Memphis Minnie was a blues guitarist and single who recorded from the 1920s to the 50s. Some credit her as being the most popular female country blues singer of all time. Minnie got her start playing street corners after she ran away to Beale Street in Memphis when she was 13. She was a total bad ass that took no shit off of any man, with some of the blues men of her day telling stories of her pulling knives, pistols, or anything else that was handy on anyone who would try to fool with her.
I drove out Old Highway 61 in Walls, MS and down my first dirt road of the trip to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Money Road was nothing compared to this. I didn’t see another person or hear another car the entire time we were there. The church was surrounded by fields and the sky was gloriously clear and silent except for the wind. I’ve never particularly liked spending time in a cemetery before, but it was so bizarrely peaceful there. If we hadn’t had plans to keep driving to Memphis that night I could have easily sat down under one of the big trees and read for a while.
It was here that we also stumbled on our only Geocaching the Blues check point. I had read up on these but hadn’t made a point of seeking them out. This one was chained to a tree root off to the side of the cemetery.
I didn’t think anything could compare to that. Then I went in search of BB King’s childhood home and Mississippi John Hurt’s grave. More on that later.