Delta Jewels

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Image courtesy of Alysia Burton Steele.

On the first day of the SFA’s oral history workshop last July, photojournalist and professor Alysia Burton Steele visited the classroom to talk about the thousands of miles she traveled through the Mississippi Delta to document the stories of church mothers who lived through the era of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement.

The room was still and silent. Every person was captivated by Alysia’s warmth, honesty, documentary courage, and how her personal story was the inspiration for her documentary work. She introduced the woman behind all of those Delta miles: her paternal grandmother.

On her website, Alysia explains:

I never photographed her or recorded her voice. I regret that as a journalist, but more importantly as a granddaughter who loved her grandmother deeply. When you’re young, you think you’re going to live forever and you just assume your loved ones will too.  I can’t talk to her now, but I decided I could interview other people’s grandmothers. ~ Alysia Burton Steele

In her book Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom, Alysia honors the grandmother who raised her by collecting the stories of more than fifty women, who also became grandmothers to her.

Today is the official release of the book and tonight she begins a book tour at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi.

To purchase the book or to find a nearby town on the tour, head to her website.

And for more stories from the Mississippi Delta, visit our oral history archive to find stories from restaurant owners, Chinese grocers, and hot tamale makers.