(October 14, 2015)
After more than a year of planning, the first annual Mules and Blues Festival kicked off the celebration of the grand opening of the Delta Regional Mule Train Cooperative Market in the small Delta town of Marks, Mississippi. The cooperative market, bringing in artisans, farmer co-ops and local entrepreneurs to a large warehouse, will provide access to fresh, nutritious, locally-sourced food to an area that officials have described as a “food desert.”
The town of Marks, which is most famously known for being the beginning of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign “Mule Train” to Washington, DC in 1968, saw hundreds of visitors on hand for the weekend celebration. Festivities were marked by a ceremony unveiling the twentieth marker of the Mississippi Freedom Trail, the commemoration of the Mule Train Museum, and the unveiling of a 12-panel, 96-foot long historical mural depicting various stages of the journey from Marks, MS to Washington, DC. Local officials, including the mayor of the city of Marks and Mississippi State Senator Robert Jackson were in attendance for the opening ceremonies.
Many of the residents on hand at the celebration were a part of the original Mule Train, some walking all the way to Washington, DC from Northern Mississippi.
With support from NCBA CLUSA, the Shreveport Federal Credit Union (SFCU) along with regional partners such as the USDA Development Authority, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and the Quitman County Board of Supervisors established the Delta Regional Mule Train Market as a point of revitalization for this town of just over 1,600 residents. Seven years ago SFCU opened a branch in Marks, Mississippi to expand their services to the broader community in the Mississippi Delta region. The credit union’s leadership embraced their unique position as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and began building alliances with other cooperative organizations with a focus on using their collective resources to address the many needs and opportunities of the region.
Led by Mrs. Helen Godfrey-Smith, CEO of SFCU and Dr. Birdex Copland, SFCU’s Chairman of the Board, the idea for the market came about through multiple meetings with community members, mayors of several towns, and farmers in which they addressed the challenges which have caused this region to be so economically deprived. It was decided that the establishment of the Delta Regional Mule Train Cooperative Market provided a means to overcome these challenges by offering the venue for farmers, artisans, and others to bring items to market inexpensively, allowing them to realize the financial benefits resulting from their labors and creativity. The Market Co-op is a food hub for the entire community providing reasonably priced, fresh, locally-grown foods; creating jobs for some and for others an entertainment and a gathering place.
In addition to being a food hub for the community, the market also features a Kidzone and a small food court.
This revitalization has also sparked a collaboration between the town of Marks and AmTrak, who has begun the work of establishing a train station in the heart of Marks, connecting the small town with large cities like New Orleans, LA and Memphis, TN opening the door for much needed tourism and commerce.
After the co-op market opening, the Mules and Blues Festival continued in a local park, with plenty of barbecue and local blues musicians performing, including local native Stephen Pride, brother of country music star Charley Pride.
Residents of Marks are excited to support the cooperative market as a showcase for the communities’ cultural roots and a commemoration of its place in the Civil Rights movement and American history.