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Street Spirit Volume 18, No. 4 April 2012 $1.00 A publication of the American Friends Service Committee JUSTICE NEWS & HOMELESS BLUES IN THE BAY AREA The Mississippi Delta: Birthplace of the Blues “This Is Where the Soul of Man Never Dies.” by Terry Messman T his is a story about people living in one of the most impoverished places in America, with substandard housing, poor health care, and lowered life expectancy. This is a story about how segregation and racial discrimination harm human beings. And this is a story about how beauty flowers forth from the fields of brutality. This is a story of the blues. “This is where the soul of man never dies,” as Sam Phillips of Sun Studio said when he first heard legendary bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. ON THE TRAIL OF THE BLUES “The Mississippi Delta was shining Like a National guitar. I am following the river Down the highway Through the cradle of the Civil War. I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.” — Paul Simon The Mississippi Delta was shining in sacred light, shining like the National steelbodied guitar that was played so furiously by one of Mississippi’s most amazing sons — Son House, one of the first Delta blues musicians, a man who played with such heartfelt passion I would have followed that soulful voice anywhere. Such highly influential blues masters as Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson were first inspired by Son House’s overpowering voice and slide guitar. As my wife, Ellen Danchik, and I drove through the Delta cotton fields that gave birth to the blues, we listened to Son House’s darkly unsettling music, his tortured, rawedged voice growling in a fever about his search for some kind of redemption. In our lives, the music of the Mississippi Delta had become so compelling that we had to make this pilgrimage to the birthplace of the blues. We were on the trail of Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Robert Johnson and Elmore James, following the most legendary blues highway of all — Highway 61 — along the flat floodplains of the Mississippi Delta. Mississippi gave birth to an overwhelming majority of the world’s finest blues musicians, and we came to visit an amazing network of blues museums, juke joints, birthplaces and gravesites of legendary blues masters — all marked by more than 100 distinctive, dark-blue markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail that honor the legacy of music that flourished under some of the most oppressive economic conditions in the nation. See Mississippi Delta: Birthplace page 5 Blue guitars on the Crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. “The blues were born and not written, because in those days it was oppression and you were depressed by the oppression. Black folks had no rights” - Rev. David Matthews WRAP Occupies Abandoned Building in San Francisco Cities write these laws as if they apply to both rich and poor, but selectively enforce them only against the poor. by Lydia Gans and Terry Messman T he numbers are alarming. In recent years, some 400,000 Section 8 units have been lost and another 300,000 units of public housing have been turned into forprofit developments and are no longer available to low-income people. In addition two-and-one-half million foreclosures have taken place, further increasing the need for affordable housing. These are big numbers, and they are not just real estate numbers — they are people. They represent men and women, mothers with children, people in ill health who have been made homeless. It is important that we look at how our society is treating our fellow citizens who are in trouble due to poverty, housing shortages, unemployment, hunger and foreclosures. More and more, instead of trying to help those in need, cities are passing “sitlie bans” or “public commons for everyone” laws which make it illegal to sit or lie or “loiter” on the street. That these simple acts are defined to be a crime for which a person is subjected to police harassment and, ultimately, to Paul Boden, at left, warns that Business Improvement Districts hire privae security to drive away the poor. arrest, is an egregious violation of civil rights supposedly guaranteed in our democracy. Yet it happens to homeless people all the time. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) found in a survey of 716 homeless people in 13 different communities that 78 percent reported being harassed, cited or arrested for sleeping; 75 percent were harassed, cited or arrested Lydia Gans photo for sitting or lying on the sidewalk; 76 percent were harassed, cited or arrested for loitering or hanging out; and only 25 See S.F. Activists Occupy Vacant page 4

Street Spirit April 2012

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