It is a gathering place: Marcus Bottom was a center for early blues legends

Published 12:12 am Friday, February 27, 2015

Joseph Branch cooks some meat on the grill at Delia’s Park in Marcus Bottom. The park is a gathering place for locals.

Joseph Branch cooks some meat on the grill at Delia’s Park in Marcus Bottom. The park is a gathering place for locals.

Tammy Lipscomb sometimes spends her lunchtime hanging out around the picnic area down at the foot of Halls Ferry Road.  ///  For years, the little tract of land, now known as Delia’s Park, has been a gathering spot for locals.

Passersby who didn’t grow up in this historically African American community may wonder what all goes down at the park in Marcus Bottom, and Lipscomb says it is a place where one can go to stay connected.
“We keep each other company and talk about the good old days,” said Lipscomb.
“I grew up in the bottom, and even when I moved to Port Gibson I didn’t stop coming here,” she said.
Now in her 40’s, Lipscomb said she remembers hanging out at “the bottom” when she was a child.
“There were benches and tables down here when I was a child,” she said.

Joseph Branch cooks some meat on the grill at Delia’s Park in Marcus Bottom. The park is a gathering place for locals.

Joseph Branch cooks some meat on the grill at Delia’s Park in Marcus Bottom. The park is a gathering place for locals.

The benches and tables Lipscomb referred to were built or donated by those that lived in the area, said former Alderwoman Gertrude Young, but during the Joe Loviza administration permanent benches were installed.
With the support of Young and former Alderman Sid Beauman, a pavilion was erected during the Lawrence Lyens administration, and picnic tables, electricity and an on-site bathroom facility were added.
“We decided to name it Delia’s Park in honor of the woman who ran the café in the blue building next door,” said Young.
“Miss Delia was always active in the community,” she said.
Before Delia’s Park became a location where area locals would come and reminisce about days gone by, the shady spot that sits across the way from Military Avenue was known to be a hang out for those looking for work.
“People would go to the tree if they were looking for work,” said Young.
“This was a gathering place for local laborers,” said Loviza.
Those willing to work for a “days wages” would come here and wait for a job offer, he said.
Since becoming a named haunt, Delia’s Park has played host to cookouts, gospel services, fundraisers and political rallies.
“At election time candidates come down here,” said David Selmon.
Joseph Branch, who was instrumental in holding a fundraiser for a sick friend, said, “We had a fundraiser for a guy that had cancer. We sold food plates and gave money to him.”
“Lots of people came down here and volunteered and cooked,” said Otis Lee Davis Sr., a retired plumber, who says he now has plenty of time to hang out at the park.
IMG_6088WEBAlthough the most popular hours to socialize at Delia’s Park are from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Davis said, the music system that was provided by the city plays all day long.
The stereo system is appreciated, but it could never compare to the soulful sounds played and sung live by some of the greatest blues musicians.
Vicksburg was a lively river port and was not only the most populous city in Mississippi during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but was also home to the state’s largest African American community.
Marcus Bottom became an important center of the early blues, jazz, and gospel music activity, and a wide range of musical traditions mingled there as professional traveling bands, itinerant guitarists from Delta cotton plantations, barrelhouse piano players, and others worked the clubs and cafes in Marcus Bottom.
“The bottom was famous,” said Don Johnson, who grew up in Marcus Bottom and is a regular at Delia’s Park
He pointed over at Lane Street where he said a club sat when he was younger and claims he heard Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and B.B. King play.
The club that Johnson was referring to was called the South Side Park Dance Hall, and according to music historian Earnest McBride, Jazz legends Earl “Fatha” Hines, King Oliver, Bennie Moten, and Louis Armstrong were some of the greats who performed at the Marcus Bottom club.
“The Bottom was a place where black people hung out.
They would come down here and the kids would drink a little corn whiskey,” said Johnson.
In 2009, the Blues Commission officials declared Marcus Bottom had been a major venue for blues and jazz, and just to the right of the Delia’s Park sign stands Vicksburg’s fourth Blues Trail Marker.

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About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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