Delta Democrat Times Newspaper
By Molly Morgan
Blues and buffalo also on calendar
(BELZONI, MS) - For the past eight years, the African-American Buffalo Fish Festival has drawn a crowd of blues lovers to this Mid-Delta community.
Saturday's featured performer was Bobby Rush, drawing festivalgoers like Frederick and Janice Dabbs of Tupelo to hear the sound of the legendary blues singer.
"I heard about this from friends, and we decided to check it out," Frederick Dabbs said. "We come to the blues festival in Greenville every year, and now we will start coming to this. We have really had a great time."
The festival each year is in honor of "The Queen of Soul Blues" Denise LaSalle, who is a Belzoni native. Festival founder and organizer Dr. Ronald Myers said LaSalle performs every other year.
According to Myers, the festival was started after he decided the rank and file workers in the catfish industry should be honored for what they do. Those people skin, cut and gut the fish.
"These workers are 99.9 percent African American, and they barely get paid minimum wage," Myers said. "We tried to get the people in that are involved with the Annual World Catfish Festival to honor them, but they wouldn't, so we started a festival of our own."
The Catfish Festival organizers received a $3,000 grant for their event, and Myers said he wants the same grant for his.
"They refuse to help me," Myers said. "In fact, the city workers that work on city time help prepare for the catfish festival, and they won't help us."
Catfish officials said Myers has been told he could receive the amount of money if he has the festival on a different day rather than compete with their event.
While the catfish event was held downtown, the African-American Buffalo Fish Festival was held at the corner of Reverend George Avenue and Jackson Street, a small business district a short distance from the other festival.
Myers has been an advocate for the catfish workers for years and has been trying help with what he said is "more-than-insufficient working conditions" within the catfish industry.
"For years and years, I have been trying to get the catfish industry to help the African-American people who make the plants run," Myers said. "They never would listen to me or even meet with me."
He is now working with the Vietnamese catfish industry to develop an African-American owned Vietnamese distributing facility.
The catfish industry has been at odds with Vietnamese producers, claiming the foreigners are invading the U.S. market with mislabeled basa, claiming that is American catfish. Federal regulations now require accurate and more easily-identifiable labeling.
While that has placated catfish farmers, it hasn't quieted Myers.
"The catfish industry is the most racist business institution in the nation," Myers said. "They are the new plantation in America."
Eddie Harris, Humphrey's county agent for the Mississippi State Extension Service, doesn't agree. Harris, who is also black, said the catfish industry is the backbone of the county.
"The catfish industry employs hundreds of people in the area and brings millions of dollars into the county," he said. "If we take it out, where would Humphrey's county be?"
Molly Morgan can be reached 378-0717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.