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Poverty and Affluence Live Side By Side in the Delta
The Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, Miss., is predominantly black and poor. Across town, life couldn’t be more different for the mostly white, more affluent residents.
Ellen Wilson smokes a menthol cigarette while cooking French fries in the Baptist Town section of Greenwood, Miss. For the past four years, photojournalist Matt Eich has been documenting life in Baptist Town, a largely black and impoverished neighborhood. He was drawn to the area because of the deep socioeconomic divide between blacks and whites.
While blacks make up the majority of Greenwood residents, they are much more likely to be poor than white residents, who make up less than a third of the population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 49 percent of blacks and 8 percent of whites in Greenwood lived below the poverty line in 2010. "While we like to pretend that segregation is behind us, the numbers reflect a different reality in the economically-challenged neighborhood of Baptist Town," Eich said.
Dialia Wooten walks home from church in Baptist Town. The youngest of three children, her father is currently in prison for running guns. Dialia's mother Vicki stresses the importance of education as a way to rise above their surroundings. The children all bring home above-average grades.
Once home to blues legend Robert Johnson and Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, Baptist Town thrived as residents worked in industries such as cotton and catfish production. But as jobs left the Delta, Baptist Town began a decline into poverty, unemployment and crime in recent decades. Now the neighborhood sits in stark contrast to the white picket-fenced homes on the other side of town.
(L-R) Pat Hawkins, Roger "Winky" Williams, Eddie "Head" Taylor and Robert Pritchett load into a van in Baptist Town on the Fourth of July before driving out to the lake in nearby Grenada.
A man's hands are covered in oil after working on a car. Many Baptist Town residents will attempt to repair their own vehicles, or hire neighbors as a means of saving money and supporting the informal economy that many depend on to help make ends meet. Blacks between the ages of 20 to 24 in Mississippi had an unemployment rate of about 32 percent in 2012, much higher than the state’s overall unemployment rate of 9 percent.
A young man lit only by the dim glow of street lights stands on the corner of Young and Pelican in Baptist Town late at night.
Jabari Wilson leans over a table while rolling up a blunt in his home in Baptist Town. Jabari lives with his mother, Ellen, and does his best to help support her. He used to work in a local catfish plant but is currently unemployed.
Dwight Harris plays pool in Odessa Nicks' one-room bar. Other than a convenience store, Odessa’s is the only building in the neighborhood where people can go to socialize.
The Mize family and friends celebrate during a wedding rehearsal dinner on the north side of Greenwood, in a mostly white neighborhood.
A home being built in the Robert E. Lee subdivision on the more affluent north side of Greenwood.
A coach whispers a play to a pee-wee football player during practice. Football is a big part of life and culture in the Mississippi Delta.
Mourners attend the wake of Demetrius "Butta" Anderson, 18, who was shot and killed on October 27, 2010, by a man he had allegedly assaulted a year before. Butta’s older brother was shot and killed in 1996 and his cousin, Bianca Keys, was 18 when she was murdered in 2009. Butta's girlfriend was pregnant with his first child, due barely a month after his death. For many in Baptist Town, violence is a part of life.
(L-R) Jabari Wilson sits next to his cousin, Korwin "Quan," and mother Ellen in the dining room of the home he shares with his mother, sister Nikki and her girlfriend Dominique. Jabari and his sister Nikki both work to support Ellen, who has a number of health problems and is unable to work. Quan (center) lost his mother in a car accident as a child and has been raised by his grandmother ever since. In Mississippi, 56 percent of grandparents are raising their grandchildren.
Richard Devon Taylor, 17, (a.k.a “Pokey”) shows a scar left by medical treatment following a gunshot wound. Pokey was 16 when young men from another neighborhood who were “beefing” with the boys from Baptist Town shot him as he walked out of a store around 11 p.m. after getting a snack. The bullet passed through Taylor’s stomach and came out his back. After being driven to the hospital by friends, he was put on a life-flight helicopter to Jackson where they treated his extensive injuries.
Sharon Harris' children entertain themselves on an improvised chalkboard made out of cardboard in their bedroom.
The wedding of Shameka DeShann Wilson and Samuel Lee Smith, Jr., on Saturday, February 19, 2011, at Jennings Temple in Greenwood. In the area’s black community, about 19 percent of married-couple families and 58 percent of female-headed households live below the poverty line, according to Census data.
Jarvis Benford of Delta Blaze semi-pro football team during a game at Amanda Elzy High School. "When you look at the Mississippi Delta, there aren't a whole lot of options, a whole lot of dream chasing going on," says coach Darrell Sproles, 31. "When you add the element of the Delta Blaze, it's a way of keeping hope alive. It's a bunch of guys coming together, trying to make their dreams come true."
Dash Brown lights a cigarette in his bedroom recording studio where he makes music with other young people from Baptist Town.
A teacher speaks with students at Delta Streets Academy, a high school for at-risk young men in Greenwood. Founded in 2012 by T. Mac Howard, a former public school teacher, Delta Streets seeks to equip young men from at-risk neighborhoods to be future leaders. Howard became aware of the community's need while seeing the high dropout rates in the public school system. The school currently houses 7th - 9th grades, but they hope to expand to include 7th - 12th grades.
Parishioners step into the rain outside of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Religion permeates this rural, southern community.
Lorenzo Gore gives a trim to Thaddeus Walls outside of Thaddeus's father's shop in Greenwood. As photojournalist Matt Eich wrote down their names, the dad chimed in to say, "And write down that they're both unemployed and looking for jobs!"
Emily Benford hangs a child upside down while playing in front of the Benford family's home in Baptist Town. While the community is home to a host of problems, it is also a tight-knit place where neighbors are like family.