Thursday, September 29, 2022

Goodbye to a Delta Visionary

On rare occasions, someone will come along seemingly out of nowhere, go to work for a company and almost single-handedly taking that organization to a new level. For the past 14 years, this community and the entire Mississippi Delta has benefited from someone like this, Dr. Luther Brown. Through his creativity, hard work and efforts, Luther took the Delta to new heights, placing the region on the international “must-visit” map.

Dr. Luther Brown / Photo courtesy of bluesnewsnow.blogspot.com and the Mississippi Delta Blues Society
Dr. Luther Brown / Photo courtesy of bluesnewsnow.blogspot.com and the Mississippi Delta Blues Society

This past Friday, a group gathered at the DSU Alumni House in Cleveland, Miss. to say farewell to Luther, longtime director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University, who is retiring to Florida. It was a sad afternoon.
Luther, a native of Chicago, found his way to Cleveland through former DSU president Dr. David Potter in 2000. Luther and David worked together at George Mason University. When David arrived at DSU, he saw the need to bring in someone who could study and interrupt the Mississippi Delta to the world. Luther delivered beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Landing on his feet the moment he arrived in the Delta, he quickly established The Delta Center for Culture and Learning. Luther spent untold hours studying the Delta and traveling the region researching our unique area. In doing so, he came up with this mission statement for the center:
“…to promote the heritage of the Mississippi Delta through educational programs that include classes, workshops, and study-tours focused on the Blues, Civil Rights, the Mississippi River, and other aspects of Delta culture.”
Promote it he did and thousands of people from all over the world came to the Delta because of his efforts. The news media, documentary filmmakers, and Hollywood film studios often interviewed Luther. Those segments and articles have been viewed and read by millions around the globe. He has been interviewed about the Delta on Good Morning America, the BBC, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, the National Geographic Channel, the Golf Channel’s Golf with Style Mississippi, the History Channel, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and two Japanese TV shows.
Luther is the one who conceptualized the Blues Trail and the idea to give Morgan Freeman an honorary degree from DSU. The worldwide media ran photos of Morgan dressed in DSU graduation garb.
For more than 10 years, Luther also ran an unofficial Delta tourism business, taking around high-powered corporate CEOs, movie stars, rock stars, politicians, and others to soak up the sights and sounds of the Mississippi Delta. In our neck of the woods, before Luther arrived, very few of us in the Mississippi Delta knew anything about Po’ Monkey’s juke joint located outside of Merigold, Miss. Luther started taking people there and promoting that wonderful juke joint. Now, Po’ Monkey’s is a major stop on any blues tour of the Delta.
Luther spent years spearheading the creation of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area that was established by federal law (Omnibus Federal Land Management Act of 2009). His center manages the heritage area and works closely with the National Park Service. Soon, this heritage area will be a significant asset to the Delta in a variety of ways.
During his tenure, Luther published hundreds of academic articles and regularly presented these at national, regional and local meetings. He is a founding member of the Mississippi Blues Commission and past Chairman of the Mississippi Blues Foundation. The Delta Center is also the fiscal agent for the Mississippi Blues Commission.
In 2003, he was named Mississippi Humanities Instructor of the Year by the Mississippi Humanities Council. In 2008, the Delta Center for Culture and Learning received the Public Humanities Achievement award from the Humanities Council, and he was elected to the Council’s Board of Directors. Luther also serves on the Board of the Mississippi Historical Society and he has received grant support from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the History Channel, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.
I cannot think of one person in the history of the Mississippi Delta who has championed our region like Luther. Everything he has worked for since 2000 is just beginning to come to fruition—just as he is leaving. Even DSU has announced it is going to start a blues program of study.
Luther, on behalf of this region, and especially on a personal note, thank you for what you have done for us. We will never be able to repay you, but please know we will always owe you a great debt of gratitude.
Happy trails, my friend. We wish you the very best.
For more information on the Delta Center, visit deltacenterforcultureandlearning.com.
ScottCoopwoodPhoto-843x1024Scott Coopwood, a seventh generation Deltan, lives in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his wife Cindy and their three children. Scott is the publisher and owner of Delta Magazine, one of the South’s leading lifestyle publications, the Delta Business Journal, the first business publication in the Mississippi Delta; and Cleveland’s weekly newspaper, The Cleveland Current . Scott’s company also publishes two weekly e-newsletters. Coopwood publishing concerns now reach 250,000 people.  Scott is also a 1984 graduate of the University of Mississippi. He can be reached at scott@coopwood.net

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