The Family of Tommy Johnson, The owners of a farm, and the Copiah County Board of Supervisors can't seem to come to the table to hammer out a win-win for all parties.
Crystal Springs, Mississippi is the home to 5,873 residents. Founded in 1823, the Copiah County town became the "Tomatopolis of the World." Over history, many famous blues musicians have stepped foot into Crystal Springs. Significantly more tourists come to see the Robert Johnson Blues Museum and attend the blues festival.
The grave of the Blues Artist is unmarked, as it has been for a half a century at the Warm Springs Methodist Church Cemetery. The past ten years, the headstone has been stored at the public library for the Tommy Johnson Blues Foundation in Crystal Springs. Most reasonable people would ask,"Why?" at this point. It seems the cemetery access road now lies on private property, and the owners (Keating) have denied access to Johnson's family several times, to allow them to place the headstone of their descendant.
Mention Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson in the same sentence, and most assume the conversation will be about the long controversy of which Johnson is "The Johnson," and met the Devil at the Crossroads. There are many articles and books on the subject. About.com's Blues Guide states: " Robert must have been the better negotiator of the two (unrelated) musicians because Tommy Johnson became a mere footnote in the blues genre.."
How is it that an access road to a cemetery, once maintained by the Copiah County authority, is now private property? Why would anyone want to deny passage to a cemetery to allow a marker to be placed? What logical basis could possibly exist? Perhaps the owners are oblivious to the Blues world, and the Blues community. The one in which Buddy Guy sings "Skin Deep" and the majority of genre fans believe, "There is no black, no white, just blues."
Problems without solutions are whining. Two solutions might be to engage in an arbitration process and negotiate in good faith to insure the real issues are addressed and a timely outcome would result. An alternative suggestion could be to have the three parties Come On In My Kitchen and sit around the table and study the meaning behind the lyrics of Canned Heat. I am certain the issue would be resolved in a relatively shorter time frame.
I was sad to see, as I researched this article, how much has been written about this bizarre conflict over the past nine years, including an excellent blog post in the Sheyboygan Blues Society and an article on this morning's Topix Blues newsfeed from Frost Illustrated. I read a Mississippi Senate Resolution to commemorate the life and legacy of Tommy Johnson. I saw a website that promoted T-shirts and encouraged readers to write the Governor of Mississippi. There is a deeper sense of injustice behind the story. One that brings to mind a man, who once a long time ago, simply said, "Do justice." Then there is the question of how we treat our neighbors in our community. That man, told us to "Love our neighbors as ourselves." The appearance of land deals, inept government, and lack of urgency steeped in bureaucracy, I leave to those who practice Law, and hopefully justice. I want to acknowledge Andrew Buncombe of the U.K. for shedding further light on the issue in 2003.
What will it take for a man to be allowed to finally rest in peace? Do justice.