Officials seek church’s OK to move Robert Johnson Blues marker

A blues marker honoring Robert Johnson was knocked down in December 2011. The marker was initially placed in front of the Little Zion church (far left) on county property. Officials want to put the new marker inside the church fence to prevent future damage. Church officials have rejected that proposal in the past. (File photo taken by Monica Land)

Marker knocked down in December 2011

GREENWOOD – Officials working with the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) hope to meet with representatives of a local church to discuss moving the blues trail marker honoring Robert Johnson after it was knocked down in December.

The damaged marker, located on Money Road, just north of Greenwood, was discovered by local attorney Floyd Melton III. Melton said he found the broken marker lying on the ground on Dec. 24, 2011.

Allan Hammons, president of Hammons & Associates, an advertising firm in Greenwood contracted by the MDA to design and install the marker, said the marker was broken off at the base and may not be the work of vandals.

“It’s not possible to tell if the marker was the target of vandals or if the damage was the result of an accident,” Hammons said. “The broken marker tablet was found lying on the ground near the post, which causes me to believe that it may have been accidentally struck by an oversize piece of farm equipment.”

Hammons said the marker is located on the “county road right-of-way.”

“It’s an easy victim of anything that is oversized,” he said.

Hammons said the marker can not be repaired, but will have to be replaced at a cost of about $2,500.

The marker was initially unveiled on May 16, 2007 just outside the fence of the Little Zion M.B. Church. The church, which MDA officials said is the most likely burial place for the late blues singer, contains the third headstone erected in Johnson‘s memory.

Hammons said since the marker has been damaged, they plan to meet, again, with the elders of Little Zion to see if they will allow the marker to be placed inside their churchyard fence.

“Our earlier efforts to do this were rejected,” Hammons said. “Clearly, I am dismayed anytime that anything is desecrated. [But] I will say that we have been blessed in that there has been very little damage to the markers that are scattered all over Mississippi and in nine other states. And I sincerely hope we can relocate the Robert Johnson marker to a safer location.”

Robert Johnson was reportedly born in Hazlehurst, Miss., in Copiah County, on May 8, 1911, and traveled extensively playing the blues in local juke joints, on street corners and in front of barbershops and restaurants.

Johnson recorded only 29 songs in his lifetime, but his work went on to be performed by countless blues and rock musicians since.

In 1938, Johnson was supposedly poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman he flirted with, and died at the age 27.

Due to a lack of county records, there are three burial places marking Johnson’s grave in Mississippi, all in Leflore County.

One is an unmarked grave at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City, near Greenwood. Columbia Records and other donors paid for a one-ton obelisk listing all of Johnson’s song titles to be placed at this location in 1991.

A second grave is in the cemetery of Payne Chapel near Quito. This is the alleged burial site of Johnson’s family plot leading many to believe Johnson was also buried there.

And the third location is under a big pecan tree in the Little Zion M.B. Church cemetery. A woman, Rosie Eskridge, said she was there when her husband allegedly dug Johnson’s grave in August 1938. Eskridge said Johnson was buried in a simple pine box provided by Leflore County.

Historian Steve LaVere erected a marker at this location in 2002, that is inscribed with a handwritten note by Johnson, according to his sister, Carrie M. Thompson, that reads: “Jesus of Nazareth King of Jerusalem. I know that my Redeemer liveth and that He will call me from the Grave.”

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