Rolling Fork gets $15,663 from National Endowment for the Humanities for tornado recovery

Published 11:04 am Thursday, July 20, 2023

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded $15,663 in emergency supplemental funding to NEH’s state affiliate, Mississippi Humanities, to help replace cultural heritage materials in Rolling Fork that were damaged by a tornado this spring.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Mississippi who lost so much in the devastating tornado that swept through the Delta in March,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “NEH is pleased to support the repair and restoration of historical markers commemorating Rolling Fork’s storied past. We hope these small symbols of the area’s unique identity and culture will inspire pride and hope in Sharkey County and the surrounding areas as these communities continue to rebuild.”

On March 26, 2023, President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration for seven counties in Mississippi following the catastrophic tornado that tore through towns and communities, killing 21 people and leveling houses and structures of all sizes. Among the towns hit hardest is Rolling Fork, a rural Mississippi Delta community of 1,800 people.

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This small rural town is renowned as both the birthplace of blues legend Muddy Waters and the site of a famous hunting incident that inspired President Theodore Roosevelt’s popular association with the “Teddy Bear.”

The March 24 EF-4 tornado severely damaged a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail celebrating Muddy Waters and the town’s interpretive signage and sculptures depicting Teddy Roosevelt and Holt Collier, the African American hunter and former slave who guided Roosevelt’s hunt for a black bear.

An emergency NEH grant to Mississippi Humanities will provide for the replacement of both the Muddy Waters Mississippi Blues Trail Historical Marker and the materials documenting Roosevelt and Collier’s 1902 hunt.

The Mississippi Blues Trail, a series of more than 200 historical markers at sites of significance in the history of the birth and growth of blues music, was created in 2006 by the Mississippi Blues Commission with support from a major grant from NEH.

“We are so grateful to Chair Lowe and NEH for their support of Rolling Fork,” said Stuart Rockoff, executive director of Mississippi Humanities. “While the town faces a long road to recovery, replacing these markers will help ensure that its rich cultural heritage remains central to the town’s identity.”

Mississippi Humanities is part of a network of 56 state jurisdictional and interim humanities councils that partner with the National Endowment for the Humanities to help support local humanities programs, institutions and events across the United States and U.S. jurisdictions.