The ladder truck spurts to life, soaking the street and firefighters until, finally, someone figures out how to turn it towards the fire. The building smolders. Smoke pours from a vent above the glass storefront and out the door but no flames. The fire seems to be hiding between the floor and the ceiling. A firefighter climbs an extension ladder heading to the roof, then slips backwards dropping the hose while people gasp. There is a lot of very expensive equipment and fire trucks but the men seem tentative. A bucket brigade seems plausible. It seems there is more money and equipment than the firefighters know what to do with.
Clarksdale is growing. Amidst the broken windows and empty storefronts of downtown’s abandoned buildings there is change in the air. On Yazoo street the old Woolworths is now an upscale cafe serving Quiche and Cappucinos. Upstairs remodeled lofts rent to tourists by the night. Around the corner “Rust” serves up expensive entrees to women in heels and men in collared shirts. The decor suggests a Mississippi funk theme. A Disney – like representation of the decay a few doors down the street. The contrived and the genuine rub shoulders in Clarksdale. The broken windows, dirty alleyways and abandoned buildings still dominate downtown but Clarksdale has an ace in her hand. She’s widely recognized as the home of the Blues. “Ground Zero” as Morgan Freeman named his new Juke Joint, for Blues Music. Robert Plant was just here and the Blues festivals bring thousands every year. There’s several Blues museums and a great collection of little bars offering live blues nightly. Clarksdale was once a boom town and might be again but Black people will have to hold their own as wealth once again comes to town. In order for Clarksdale to remain a legitimate blues town and not a theme park, the black owned Juke Joints need to be protected. Black folks need to be business owners and play an active role in shaping the growth. They will need to be more than just “the entertainment.”
As we sit on the shiny stools outside the Stone Pony sipping Draft beer a black man starts talking to us.
“I have a white horse with a black saddle and when me and my son come riding ain’t no one gonna run us out of these stores and restaurants no more!”
Then he hurries off down the street as if to avoid being run off. We hear his voice the next morning from our second story loft, it echoes around the buildings – the one lonesome detractor.
Clarksdale is a town undergoing change and will no doubt have growing pains. Until then bucket brigades and shiny new fire trucks, abandoned buildings and upscale restaurants will have to share the space and hopefully there will always be room for black men on white horses to ride downtown and be welcomed.