A Community Assessment of Indianola, Mississippi by Eric Matte (October 29th, 2005)

I recently came across the following piece written in 2005 by Eric Matte. His community assessment of Indianola, Mississippi appears to have been a school related assignment. Whatever his motivation, I very much like his investigatory approach and applaud his findings.

Eric Matte conducted interviews with several individuals within the community, and defined Indianola, Mississippi leading up to October 29th, 2005. I would like to speak further with Mr. Matte and reach out to those who participated in this project, and determine their views now. If anyone is familiar with Eric Matte or if anyone would like to participate in a follow-up community assessment, please let me know. I can be reached at 662-298-4596.

You can view the Eric Matte’s original project here.


Eric Matte
Community Assessment
Dr. Mullins
October 29, 2005

Indianola, Mississippi

Introduction:

The following community assessment was completed with the help of many Indianola residents who gave me some of their precious time in order that I interview them. The interviewees were as follows:

  • Dr. Sammy Crigler – director of curriculum and instruction, Indianola School district. Dr. Crigler is a 30 year resident of the area.
  • Mr. Walter Gregory – Mr. Gregory is a former school board member who was the first black school board member and served 29 years as president of the school board.
  • Dr. Auwilda Mason-Polk – Dr. Polk is the current Superintendent of the Indianola School District.
  • Mr. Victor Smith – Mr. Smith is a supervisor in the Public Works Department of the City of Indianola.
  • Deacon Earnest Brown – Mr. Brown is a current school board member and a lifelong resident of Indianola Mississippi.
  • Ms. Maggie Barnes – Ms. Barnes is a current Alderwoman in the City of Indianola, and a special education teacher at Robert L. Merritt Middle School.
  • Coach Rickey Taylor – Coach Taylor is currently the assistant principal of Merritt Middle School and Athletic Director of the Indianola School District.
  • Anonymous Employee of the Delta Housing Corporation – a very unhelpful lady with a bad attitude.

    Factor 1: Defining the Community

    Indianola Mississippi has several major trade areas. The foremost trade are in the city is the farming of catfish. They are now the leading producer of farm-grown catfish in the world. Delta Pride catfish processing plant, located on the outskirts of Indianola, is one of he leading employers in the city. Indianola, with a large sized industrial park, is a suitable place for major industries to come in, but it is my belief that the area school district prevents any major industries from moving in.

    Indianola was once a good sized industrial town, but now all that remains is the fish industry. However big that industry may be, it cannot replace the many industries which have left over the years. Eight hundred plus employees were let go when Modernline Industries left the area. This departure of jobs left the community reeling and has truly shaped the way the community is today.

    The un-unified school system that exists today has prevented Indianola’s community from peaking as it did in the 80’s. Industries seem to be hesitant to come into a community that is this divided. I am, however, told by many people that the community has started becoming united. Churches are now serving multiple races; the board of Alderman and school board are multi-racial. This is a sign to me that the Indianola community, can, and hopefully will unite to make it a better place.

    Factor 2: Geography.

    Indianola is located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Nestled in Sunflower County, Indianola has an elevation of 122 feet, and a land area of 8.6 square miles. It is located approximately 30 miles east of the Mississippi river and has a well conditioned highway 82 that leads directly there. The downfall of Indianola’s geography is that there are no major metropolitan areas nearby. Jackson, the state capitol, is located approximately 140 miles southeast of Indianola, and the next closest metropolitan area is Memphis Tennessee, located 160 miles northeast of Indianola.

    The distance between Indianola and these major cities takes away from the resources available in the community. The lack of major urban areas also leads to poor housing options. People who work in Indianola also must live there if they do not wish a long commute. The people of Indianola still find a way to make the resources of these metropolitan areas available to them. There are highways that are in excellent conditions leading to each of them. This makes both area’s a popular destination.

    Factor 3: Basic Demographics

    Based on the 2000 census the total population of Indianola is 12,066. The average age of Indianola residents is 29.6 years, with 67 percent of the population are above the age of 18. Nearly 13 percent of the population is over the age of 62. The population of Indianola breaks down to be 55 percent female and 45 percent male. The racial breakdown is as follows: Black – 73.38 %, White – 25.73 %, other including Asian, Native American, Latino – 0.89 %. Indianola’s education breakdown for peoples over the age of 25 is: High school or higher: 65.3%, Bachelor’s degree or higher: 14.9%, Graduate or professional degree: 4.6%, and Unemployed: 10.9%.

    As far as marriage and family are concerned in Indianola the breakdown is as follows: Never married: 38.6%, Now married 40.3%, Separated: 4.6%, Widowed: 9.3%, and Divorced: 7.1%.

    Factor 4: Economic Elements

    The major sources of jobs in the community are in the industrial capacity. The education profession is also a large source of employment. I am told that in the 1980’s and 1990’s Indianola’s economy was peaked. There were several major industries, including but not limited to: Modernline Industries, Ludlow Products and a major catfish processing plant. From what I am told the three major industries just mentioned relocated in the late 1990’s. That was crippling to the economy of Indianola. As many as 1200 workers had lost their jobs in just a few short years. Mr. Brown has informed me that the economy has been on the decline since that time.

    Many blue-collar workers are out of work as a result of industries being relocated. Blue collar workers make up the majority of the unemployed workforce. Businesses are hesitant to come into Indianola for several reasons. The dual school system provides a barrier for industry, as does the lack of recreational resources. The geography of the area is also a hindrance for industries seeking to find a home in Indianola.

    Factor 5: Physical Infrastructure

    Highways 82 and 49 are the pride of Indianola. They are well cared for and well traveled. The streets of Indianola seem to be well taken care of as well. Sewer lines have needed to be repaired as of late, and I am told repairs are nearly complete. There is a small municipal airport located 3 miles from the city’s center, there are also municipal airports located in Greenville, Cleveland, and Belzoni. There are no shipping ports with in the city limits. The closest shipping port to Indianola would in Greenville along the eastern side of the Mississippi river.

    The city of Indianola treats its water using chlorine gas. This makes the water potable, and it passes EPA standards. I am told by Victor Smith, the public works supervisor, that many water lines are outdated and are being replaced at this very moment. Mr. Smith also said that 4,000,000 dollars had been allocated to update sewer systems. He informed me that the money will go to replacing sewer lines, modernizing the lift station, installing modern monitoring systems, and updating the main station. I’m told the money for these products will come from local taxes over the next 6 or 7 years.

    Factor 6: Cultural and Recreational Resources

    The major cultural resource of Indianola is that it is BB King’s home town. There is a project underway to construct a BB King Blues museum. This will be sure to be a source of great cultural pride for the city of Indianola. The local colleges and universities also provide a great cultural resource. MDCC located in Morehead often puts on plays and hosts performances that offer Indianola residents a chance to see things that they otherwise would not be able to. If Indianola residents wished to drive a bit they could also attend national performances at the Bologna Performing Arts Center, a part of Delta State University.

    Local recreational activities include a great interest in high school athletics. Gentry High School football is where everyone is on a Friday night. Basketball games are a huge draw as well. For most non-athletic recreation a resident of Indianola would have to travel to Greenville or Greenwood. There is no movie theatre, or other such recreational activities in Indianola. Dr. Sammy Crigler believes that, “The lack of recreational and cultural experiences is a barrier to bringing new people into the community and keeping people here when they do come.”

    Factor 7: The Power Structure

    Walter Gregory, a life time resident of the Indianola community and who served a 29 year tenure as president of the school board, hesitated when I asked this question said’ “Ten years ago there was a power structure, but today that structure doesn’t really exist.” When I pressed him about the mayor he informed me, “Since the Ward system was put into place, the mayor’s role is a ceremonial one, he doesn’t wield a whole lot of power.” He went on to tell me about how the 5 elected Alderman from 5 different wards of the city, make all major decisions regarding the community. I also asked Mr. Gregory about the most influential people in the city and he seemed discouraged. He said that, “Since the time of the passing of the ward system, no one has stepped forward and taken an influential role; there is a lot of indifference.”

    Through my interviews I have been told that the churches of Indianola have a great deal of power with their parishioners. This power has come together in the past few years as churches are beginning to become more multicultural. Most community events are in some way church sponsored or related.

    Factor 8: Role of the Governmental Agencies

    In speaking with a very uncooperative Delta Housing Corporation employee, the Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes many apartments and homes in the Indianola area. Tenants and HUD split the cost of rent, so that housing may be affordable. The employee would not tell me exactly how many apartments in the city were HUD based, but I gather the number to be pretty substantial.

    I have been told that Federal Government Grants have also been issued to support a downtown renewal project. Although details were scarce on the project it seems that a good bit of money has been obtained to support such a project.

    Factor 9: History

    Dr. Crigler recalls the Freedom Riders march from Sunflower Mississippi to the county seat of Indianola. “I remember the march from Sunflower, the Freedom Riders marched to the court house that had just broken ground and there was a large pile of gravel. Dr. King stood on that pile of gravel and addressed the town. I think it was uplifting for this town that had a lot of social issues at the time. I think it is a piece of history that Indianola remembers well.”

    Others remember the desegregation of the school system. Mr. Gregory said to me, “desegregation shaped the dual system that you see today.” Mr. Gregory during our interview also recalls the industrial peak as a point of memorable history. He recalled it as a strong economic time period and said that when those industries relocated it put a hold on everything.

    As usual, the topic of history with some interviewees led back to BB King. People view him as a historical icon in the town and believe he will be thought of as such for a very long time.

    Mr. Gregory also made mention of a time in history when whites mostly ran the town. He remarked that at this time, “a lot of thing were able to get done at this time, people were not so indifferent.”

    Factor 10: Community Barriers

    Everyone to whom I posed this question had a first response of RACE. “Desegregation of the schools has shaped Indianola into what it is today.” Mr. Gregory told me. He added, “Many industries won’t come in because we have a divided school system, private and public.”

    In Indianola there are still the tell-tale railroad tracks that separate the blacks and whites. I am of the opinion that those tracks and what they stand for are holding Indianola back from becoming a close net community. Other barriers people whom I have interviewed have cited are: lack of industry in the area, lack of decision making, and a lack of emphasis of education. Mr. Earnest Brown, Deacon of Bellgrove Baptist church says, “Many people have skewed values when it comes to athletics and education. People often value their kid’s athletic ability more than their education ability.”

    In the late 1990’s, when Modernline Industries left the Indianola district seems to be a big turning point in the city. Many whom I have spoken with and interviewed have told me that when the big industries were lost, people started becoming indifferent towards the community. This I have gathered has created a huge community barrier.

    Dr. Sammy Crigler also noted, “Healthcare is also a major barrier. Due to the socio-economic status it is very difficult to get quality healthcare professionals to come to this town. This leads to a lack of knowledge of people to know how to take care of themselves.”

    Factor 11: Values

    Deacon Brown, when asked what the people of Indianola Mississippi value instantly said, “Education.” He then paused for a moment and added athletics as well. Many people have skewed values when it comes to athletics and education. People often value their kid’s athletic ability more than their education ability.”
    When I posed this same question to Mr. Gregory, he paused and said, “Small town atmosphere. The people of Indianola are very proud of the atmosphere of the town.” This is interesting to me because the next words out of his mouth were that Indianola residents, “value a convenience to travel, they value the quality of highways 82 and 49.”

    In talking with other people it seems to me that the values that Mr. Brown and Gregory spoke to me are skewed. Being that I work in the education field, I am not sure that education is on top of the values list. What I have noticed is that residents of this city value the relationship with their church. They value that sense of community and belonging somewhere.

    It also seems to me that residents value their heritage. I did not conduct an interview in which BB Kings’ name was not mentioned. This seems to be a subject of great pride. It seems that they value that someone was able to make it. They value that someone brought recognition to their small town.

    Factor 12: Uniqueness

    When talking about uniqueness in many interviews we were brought back to BB King and his homecoming. Many people with whom I have spoken believe that his annual homecoming and his relationship with this town makes them truly unique. I would have to agree with this sentiment. To see the way that an 80 plus year old, world renown blues legend, interacts with his small community is truly unique. I remember this year’s homecoming, when BB was not feeling well, he didn’t cancel or postpone because he knew how much just his presence meant to the community. To watch him interact with the children on the community was a truly unique experience.

    Factor 13: Schools, colleges, and Universities

    The Indianola School District has 6 schools with in the city limits. There are two elementary schools – Carver Upper and Carver Lower, 1 Junior High – Pennington, 1 high school – Gentry High school, and 1 Kindergarten through 8 – Lockard Elementary. There is also a Privately Run K – 12 academy – Indianola Academy. There are several college and universities nearby to Indianola: Mississippi Valley State, located in Itta Bena Mississippi, Mississippi Delta Community College, and Delta State University, located in Cleveland Mississippi, approximately 35 miles from the city.

  • No copyright is attached to this item and appears in the public domain.

    About Mario Strong

    Celebrating blues culture and promoting roots music worldwide. Fully engaged in an ongoing personal campaign towards raising social awareness and promoting a healthy consciousness throughout the Mississippi Delta. View all posts by Mario Strong

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