THE DELTA 327 father of Mound Bayou justified his decision by claiming that African Americans were rarely able to vote in the first place. He argued that if African Americans focused on building up their communities and institutions instead of protesting for equal political rights, then they would not face the wrath of white violence. Montgomery believed that his vote at the convention was necessary because it protected Mound Bayou from white harassment. Despite the controversy among African Americans over Montgomery’s support for the 1890 Mississippi Constitution, he was an innovative leader at a time when African Americans faced tremendous despair. The Mississippi Constitution of 1890 ensured that whites, particularly white elites, controlled politics, shutting African Americans out of voting and office holding. Custom called for African Americans to be deferential to all whites, regardless of age, sex, or class. Should African Americans resist white supremacy and stand up for their dignity, the threat of violence was always waiting. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this threat increasingly manifested itself in the form of racial lynchings. African American residents of the Delta faced a rising tide of violence around the early twentieth century, just as the reign of Jim Crow was being solidified. They showed resilience in the face of violence and discrimination. Through cultural innovations and their persistent fight for a better life, African Americans in the Delta left an indelible mark on the region, the nation, and even the world through their actions and forms of expression during the age of Jim Crow. Churches functioned as a bedrock institution for African Americans. Some of the few African American- controlled institutions at this time, churches and various other religious organizations provided for the spiritual and, on some occasions, material needs of African American people. In the Delta, most African Americans in the late nineteenth century belonged to Baptist denominations such as the National Baptist Convention and nonaffiliated Missionary Baptist churches. African American Methodists found their church homes in the Colored Methodist Episcopal denomination, as well as the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and the AME Zion. By the early twentieth century, some African Americans in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta embraced a new holiness movement that stressed the gifts of speaking in tongues and the power of healing through prayer and worship. The holiness surge led to the rise of Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), the most prominent African American Pentecostal group in the Delta. The Blues Music was central toAfricanAmerican life in the Delta. Blues music became a signature feature of the black experience in the Delta. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it has been the most important cultural art form to emerge from this land. Influenced byAfrican rhythms and the field hollers of slavery times, the sounds and themes of the blues were ubiquitous in the late-nineteenth- century Delta. Black workers sang about heartache, broken promises, hard times, rowdy living, the hopes of a better tomorrow, and the challenges of life in general. While traveling through the Delta in the first decade of the twentieth century, African American bandleader and composer W. C. Handy first encountered what he called “the weirdest music I ever heard.” At a Tutwiler train station in 1903 and at a dance in Cleveland on the grounds of the old courthouse, Handy became exposed to the raw sounds of poor, ragged, rural African Americans in the Delta. Handy’s “enlightenment,” as he termed it in his autobiography, awoke him to the idea that people would pay good money to be entertained by blues musicians playing a “battered guitar, a mandolin, and a bass.” Throughout the first several decades of the twentieth century, this sound became ever more popular as the modern recording industry and radio revolutionized music technology. The earliest recording artists of the blues came overwhelmingly from the Delta, particularly from places such as Dockery Plantation near the Bolivar and Sunflower County lines. There, blues pioneers such as Charley Patton, Henry Sloan, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson played to Saturday night crowds on the plantation. These talented musicians also traveled into Delta towns The earliest recording artists of the blues came overwhelmingly from the Delta, particularly from places such as Dockery Plantation near the Bolivar and Sunflower County lines.