Welcome to Gilead, Mississippi.

There is a balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead,
To heal the sin-sick soul. - traditional African-American spiritual

It was just another unnamed community of Negro farmers: a loose consolidation of ramshackle homesteads, scanty fields, and stands of swamp maples nestled near a kudzu-draped gully, marked by one clapboard building that served as general store, church, and post office. Farmers sharecropped for the white landowners in nearby Tunica or took their meager crops to Memphis to sell. The Great Flood of ’27 swept it all away and drove people up north … but surprisingly, it breathed new life into the tiny all-black town of Gilead, Mississippi.

Following the receding waters, the formerly stubborn earth of Gilead suddenly erupted with growth. Sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and cotton bloomed violently in the same field, magnolias and cypress blossomed out of season, livestock calved fat young, and even Gilead’s malnourished people grew strong and healthy. Baffled Army Corps agricultural scientists overseeing reconstruction efforts pointed to the influx of nourishing silt and minerals deposited by the flood into the soil and water table. The God-fearing folk of Gilead claimed it was God’s reward for bearing up under hardship. The other folk of Gilead simply took its new fruits as their just due and asked no questions.

While its weary neighbors left Mississippi in droves for Chicago and St. Louis, Gilead stretched its arms and expanded, building, growing, and populating at a frantic rate. Race activists and politicians took interest, holding the town up as an example of black prosperity without white interference. Savvy businesses rushed to make contacts in the community. Money poured in, and now, only seven years later, bright shining Gilead finds itself on the brink of national fame and the promise of an era of unprecedented black equality and self-respect.

It seems everyone wants Gilead to be fruitful and multiply … even the land itself.

Balm in Gilead

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