People sometimes ask me what it’s like to live in Cleveland. Back home no one can imagine living in Mississippi. Even other folks I’ve met in the South can’t imagine living here. Mississippi in general, and the Delta in particular, have such a reputation that people just can’t picture themselves here. That the local culture isn’t immediately visible to those only passing through doesn’t help.
The truth is of course complex. Let’s start with the good. The denizens of Cleveland, Mississippi seem to be genuinely happy. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. Neighbors are friendly and helpful. Religion and politics are rarely discussed in public. Cleveland (and the Delta more broadly) also have a rich history. The local business community is thriving and jobs are more plentiful than elsewhere in the region. So life is good and moves at a slower pace than in the rest of the world. And living is cheap. So low stress, no traffic, low cost of living, friendly people … what’s not to like?
A few things. You have to love quiet living to enjoy the Delta. There may be a thriving local culture, but there still isn’t much to do compared to many other communities. The nearest city of any real size is two hours away. So many people spend time with family and friends. Without those your pretty much stuck. There aren’t a lot of meetup groups so you have to hang with those who land next to you. This can result in some interesting friendships. The main sources of friends for a lot of residents seems to be either work or church.
Which brings me to my next point. The Deep South is called the Bible Belt for a reason. There isn’t quit a church on every street corner, but the ratio of people to churches is rather high I suspect. Religion isn’t forced, but it’s also everywhere in ways great and small. You can get by without going to church (I do), but you miss out on a lot of social activity. Being an outsider in a small town can be tough.
And people seem to be rather averse to change. You see this in a lot of little ways. Traditional gender roles seem to predominate, for example. Race is another example. White and black communities still remain largely separate. The former thrives, the latter not so much. And not many people seem to care to change the state of affairs, which is part of the reason for Cleveland’s on-going struggle to integrate its schools.
These are all generalizations, of course. Cleveland is full of wonderful people, many of whom defy the stereotypes others have about Mississippi. The good isn’t just a facade for a darker reality. That said, there is more to this town than meets the eye and not always in a good way.
In some ways I’ve lived in a bubble for the past 3 1/2 years. Not only do I live exclusively in the white half of the town, I’m not overly close with a lot of people. I tend not to see my friends very often outside of work which makes it difficult to see beyond the facade people usually put up in public. Still I’ve led a good life in Cleveland. On the whole the good out weighs the bad. It is, in many ways, a unique place to live.