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What is the Blues Communities Project?

The Mt. Zion Memorial Fund initiated the Blues Communities Project in 2022 with funding from the American Historical Association and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. It’s an ArcGIS, StoryMap-based platform containing a map of African American Blues communities in Bolivar, Lowndes, and Carroll County, Mississippi. Since cultural resources serve as evidence that communities existed at some point, and cemeteries are often the only remaining cultural resource left to identify communities, we seek to collect information about known and unknown Black burial grounds as well as other cultural resources in African American communities.

In partnership with descendant communities, we hope to prevent the erasure and destruction of cultural resources–homes, churches, cemeteries, schools, photographs, documents, audiovisual media, physical artifacts, and oral histories–in African American Blues Communities. We plan to accomplish this goal by:

Documenting and preserving stories, media about African American Blues Communities
Constructing and maintaining an interactive, publicly accessible Archive & Atlas about African American Blues Communities
Identifying resources and co-developing resilience strategies with descendant communities

The Project combines GIS analysis, archival research, and community engagement, including oral histories. In addition to regularly blogging on our website to maximize transparency in our work, our team publishes peer-reviewed scholarship, installs memorials to blues artists, and provides support to grassroots and public preservation groups and agencies. We hope to make cultural resources in African American communities more visible to those who can influence their chances of survival.

We also hope to serve as a resource for stewards and grassroots preservationists. We want to help them determine the best way to protect and preserve their cultural resources. In Mississippi, some counties contain more than 100 African American cemeteries. Though several scholars have attempted to create African American Cemetery registries on the national level, and legislators have drafted a bill to establish the African American burial ground network to document African American burial grounds, we hope to build upon our previous memorialization and cemetery preservation work to provide a blueprint for national efforts to honor and preserve African American burial grounds.