Delta Center, MDNHA, SonEdna, and CARE celebrate Mississippi Delta church mothers

April 20, 2015

The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MDNHA) and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning, in collaboration with SonEdna and CARE, are sponsoring a “Delta Jewels Community Gathering” in Charleston, Tuesday, April 28 from 6 - 8 pm. The event will be held at New Town Missionary Baptist Church located at 801 Martin Luther King Drive and it is free and open to the public.

The event is named after the book Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom, authored by Alysia Burton Steele, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism professor at the University of Mississippi. The Charleston event celebrates local church mothers and is part of a series presented in towns across the Mississippi Delta region, including Charleston, Clarksdale, Indianola, Yazoo City, and Ruleville. A reception will be held immediately following the program where copies of the book may be purchased. Mrs. Steele will be available to sign them.

 “I chose women in the Delta because they are my grandmother's contemporaries, and I wanted dignified portraits of proud, black women who are powerful matriarchs,” said Mrs. Steele. “There is a need for positive images of African American life and history in the Delta and throughout our nation and our world. This book project is about addressing that need and sharing educationally and culturally significant stories that deserve to be preserved and told today and for generations to come.”

Mrs. Steele’s book features oral histories and photographs of over 50 African American church mothers from the Mississippi Delta, including Civil Rights icon Myrlie Evers-Williams. The book has been featured in The New York Times, Southern Living magazine, National Public Radio, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, and several other media outlets.

“It is an honor to present Mrs. Steele’s book and the church mothers’ stories throughout the region,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, Director of The Delta Center and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “These Community Gatherings are integral to The Delta Center’s mission of promoting greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history. The Gatherings also will feature life stories that connect with several of our National Heritage Area’s cultural heritage themes, including the Civil Rights Movement, race relations, literature, arts, and religion.” 

“We’re delighted to partner with CARE and Delta Center for Culture and Learning to bring our community together to honor our church mothers in such a high quality program,” said Banu Valladares, Executive Director for SonEdna, a literary arts organization in Charleston, MS that celebrates and promotes the literary arts and writers of all genres and backgrounds in the Delta, in Mississippi, and the world. “This community celebration allows us to foster valuable conversations about the rich history of this area and its future.”

Mrs. Steele traveled over 12,000 miles during the summer of 2013 to interview and photograph the church mothers, several of whom are from Tallahatchie County. All of the church mothers, their families, pastors, and congregation members have been invited to attend the Community Gathering in Charleston. Some are expected to speak during the program, sharing stories from their lives ranging from the tragic to the triumphant.

“This as a wonderful opportunity for residents and visitors to learn about, take pride in, and celebrate the Delta’s distinctive culture through these revered keepers of community heritage,” said Dr. Herts. “Those who attend will hear powerful stories that not only are significant to our region’s history but also to our nation’s history and to all of humanity. These women and their wisdom make them living treasures. They are our beloved Delta Jewels.”

For more information about Charleston’s Delta Jewels Community Gathering, contact SonEdna at (662) 625-6178 or


The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area is a partnership between the people of the Mississippi Delta and the National Park Service. The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area was designated by U.S. Congress in 2009 and is governed by a board of directors representing agencies and organizations defined in the Congressional legislation. More information about the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, including the complete approved management plan, is available at

The mission of The Delta Center is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships and community engagement. The Delta Center serves as the management entity of the MDNHA and is the home of the International Delta Blues Project. For more information, visit

SonEdna was founded in 2006 by Myrna Colley-Lee to celebrate and support the literary arts and writers of all genres and backgrounds in the Delta, in Mississippi, and the world. SonEdna provides space for established and emerging writers to create then connects them to the community through readings and workshops, enriching the lives of people of every age in our region. SonEdna believes that people empowered through the literary arts discern, decide, and design with greater authority, clarity, understanding, and compassion.  For more information, visit

The Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort, Inc. (CARE) was organized in 2003 by like-minded citizens who came together to help foster the economic development of Charleston, MS through the arts while maintaining the heritage and valuable history of the community. CARE envisions a brighter future for the citizens of Tallahatchie County and provides HOPE and programs to achieve this.