Interpreting Parchman Farm: A Schematic Proposal


Parchman Farm, more formally known as Mississippi State Penitentiary, is located in unincorporated Sunflower County in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. As the state’s only maximum-security prison, as well as the oldest penal institution in the state, it was constructed largely by the very same prisoners who would become the first to experience life within its confines.  As a working prison farm, inmates, to this day, serve their sentence by working in state-owned agricultural fields, or in the onsite manufacturing workshops-ultimately generating revenue for the state.  Since its creation at the turn of the 20th century, Parchman Farm has been a unique character in the narrative of the Magnolia State.  The prison has been home to several notable blues musicians, including Bukka White and Son House. Its distinctive form of labor-intensive rehabilitation inspired many numbers of blues songs to be written about the facility, ultimately becoming an informal incubator of sorts for pre-war delta blues.  In 1939, folklorist Alan Lomax recorded White and multiple others at the farm for the Library of Congress. In addition to its rich delta blues history, the facility also served as an integral component to the civil rights movement after becoming a brief home to the 1963 “freedom riders” upon their arrest.  In 2005 Tim Climer, the (at the time) executive director of the Sunflower County Economic Development District, stated that he wanted to develop Parchman Farm as a tourist attraction by establishing an interpretive center. I take this as an invitation, as well as an obligation, to participate and contribute-implementing my past work along with future research, student participation, site visits, interviews, and an unprecedented level of appreciation of all thing’s delta blues, towards the thoughtful schematic design of a compelling interpretive center.