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A Mississippi River Cruise Through American History

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

"Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history." — Dr. Maya Angelou

One month from now I'll be sailing up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis aboard the historic American Queen, an authentic, steam powered paddle-wheeler - the largest ever built! The kid in me who romanticized the Huckleberry Finn freedom of floating along the river is tickled to be going on this journey, in the company of some wonderful travel advisor colleagues. As an adult, I know exploring these river towns inevitably means flowing through the history of slavery, war, and everything that's followed. This Black History Month, I'm taking in My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem as it also helps prepare my heart, mind, and spirit for the glimpses to the past we'll encounter on this voyage filled with American history.

Choosing excursions for the American Queen during Black History Month infuses my itinerary planning with extra meaning. I'll be visiting Frogmore Plantation, the only historic and modern working cotton plantation in the South with an extremely rare 1800’s steam engine cotton gin, and though I'm pretty pacifist, I'm also visiting Vicksburg National Military Park (pictured above). It's jarring to recall that battle took place in 1863, only 159 years and a few short generations ago. I'm fortunate to have a handful of memories of my great-grandparents who emigrated from Italy, and I just now realize their parents were alive in the Civil War era (though half a world away still in Europe). That past is not so distant, and it's no wonder it still reverberates throughout our society.

Also on the cruise there are plenty of entertaining options focusing on the American music roots of this region, and I can't wait for my trip to Indianola, Mississippi, the hometown of B.B. King! I'll see the B.B. King Museum and Club Ebony, the iconic blues nightclub. Then in Memphis I'll see Sun Studio, Beale Street, Stax Studio, the Lorraine Motel, Cotton Row, plus the early homes of Elvis, B. B. King, and Johnny Cash. I'm excited to listen to the tales of our "riverlorian" and to hear someone play the real, steam-powered calliope on board. There's going to be a full day of cruising too where I can sit on the deck chair outside my cabin, close my eyes, and picture myself as Huckleberry Finn - sailing from adventure to adventure.



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