Long before that April day in 1927 when the Mississippi River exploded through the levee just north of my Greenville, Mississippi, hometown and inundated the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta for four months, it had repeatedly breached the walls of a closed black-white society dominated by Anglo-Saxon hegemony. We were global in multiple ways long before the word became today’s mind-numbing catchphrase: global in the rich mix of peoples deposited by the river on our widely dispersed communities; global in the saga of our long, wrenching climb out of the muck of unadorned racism, global in some of the inescapable effects of the cultural and political and economic interaction of our place with every place, at home and abroad. Cotton was king, yet even cotton was a king dependent on the votes of markets and consumers thousands of miles removed.
But living globally did not mean gracefully absorbing global meanings or learning global lessons or mastering globalism’s shining promises. Imposed upon that fertile soil of possibility and creativity was a rigid social order that extracted conformity as the price of admission. White supremacy was the Delta’s anthem. Globalism repeatedly faltered, then all but bowed before it in decades past, and globalism in its riot of possibilities does not advance inexorably even now. The levees that matter are breached, repaired and breached once more, a wheel not unfamiliar to our brothers and sisters on every continent. Unresolved and resolving, ebbing and flowing, my Delta’s deepest dilemmas and most heartening prospects are the world’s.