Delta Rooftops at Sunset (American Journey series)
Delta Rooftops at Sunset (American Journey series)
17" x 14"

James “Jimmy” Sisson (1902-1992) left his mother’s home in Ruleville, Mississippi in 1916. He was 14 years old, the youngest of nine brothers that left before him, one by one. He walked out of the Mississippi Delta with what he could carry, following the river valley northward. He traveled through Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois, then states east and west, eventually settling in Minnesota, the river’s northern source. In Ruleville, Jimmy had one of a very few good jobs a Black teenager could have in that era, working in the small store that served the rural community. But the job was short-lived, and it ended abruptly when the white store owner decided he had “grown too tall.” Jimmy recalled the owner telling him to leave town quickly and quietly. His rise from childhood to emerging manhood was noticed by whites in the area and it was increasingly dangerous for him to stay in Mississippi, as well as to leave. Jimmy became the last of his siblings to flee the Jim Crow south in the early years of the Great Negro Migration, one of millions to comprise the 60-yearlong movement.

Jimmy was my father. He shared the stories of his journey with me many times and his descriptions were so vivid and compelling, I felt as if we had traveled together. He told me of jumping trains to Detroit, running numbers in Chicago, and sharing a room in a St. Louis boarding house with touring jazz musicians, but the stories that centered on Ruleville were the most poignant. My childhood was filled with tales of his youth, “when the south was the south” as he would say. I carry his memories within me and this series, An American Journey, references my father’s exodus from Ruleville, which was also the home and burial site of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977). Thus, An American Journey is not only a testament to all those who made the arduous journey north but those that stayed in the south to fan the early flames of civil right activism, a view that focuses on a small delta town to reflect a much larger narrative.