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Stimulus Funds Help Mississippi Town Immortalized by Blues Legend Robert Johnson

The sun setting and outlining our atmosphere in vibrant blue and orange hues

Workers excavated a channel that connects the lake and the Mississippi River. Photo by USFWS.View more photos on Flickr.

September 29, 2010

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Rosedale, Miss. – “Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gonna take my rider by my side,” wailed blues legend Robert Johnson in his song “Traveling Riverside Blues.”

Now the little town of Rosedale, Miss., immortalized by Johnson, has one less reason to sing the blues. A project to help the town and surrounding Mississippi Delta region recently received $29,800 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, popularly known as stimulus funds, to restore a lake that the local people use for fishing.

Johnson, the extremely influential blues singer-songwriter of the 1930s, played throughout the Mississippi Delta, including Rosedale and nearby Lake Perry Martin. “While growing up in the area, my grandfather spent a lot of time playing around Lake Perry Martin,” said Steven Johnson, Johnson’s grandson and vice president of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation. “He enjoyed playing for the crowds and having a good time.”

According to one widespread legend about Johnson, whose life is sometimes as much popular myth as verifiable fact, he sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for supernatural mastery of his guitar at a crossroads that may have been near Rosedale or Clarksdale, Miss. Eric Clapton later paid tribute to Johnson and Rosedale when he included the town in lyrics to his song “Crossroads,” which was a hit for ‘60s rock band Cream.

Rosedale’s population today is around 2,400, and 82 percent are African-American. The median household income in 2007 was $21,666.

“That’s a very poor section of the Delta,” said Ron Garavelli, director of fisheries for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “They’ve really struggled economically.”

For years, the residents of Rosedale have been catching fish for their dinners at Lake Perry Martin, an 18-acre lake in Great River Road State Park stocked with catfish, bream, bass, blue gills and other species. But several years ago, the Mississippi River flooded and destroyed an old stone weir, which caused the lake to start draining back into the river. Since then Lake Perry Martin (which is named after a famous local bootlegger) has struggled, as water levels have fallen and fish kills have become prevalent in the summertime.

The stimulus contract, awarded to the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, rebuilt the stone weir to help make the lake a self-sustaining fishery again.  The plans were developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks.

“There’s no other bank fishing really within hundreds of miles,” said Garavelli. “This project will help the fishing improve, and that will help everyone there.”

“Rosedale has shrunk in population in recent years, but they are holding on like a lot of these little Mississippi towns are,” said Donny Whitten, member of the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors. “It’s got a lot of history and folklore to it.”

A dedication ceremony is being planned for the fall, and the state of Mississippi will help restock the lake as water levels rise.

“I think it’s great that the Recovery Act is helping to improve the community’s economic situation,” said Steven Johnson, “My grandfather would be honored that this is taking place - and very supportive too.”

By Phil Kloer

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2010 News Releases.

Last updated: September 29, 2010