Marcie Cohen-Ferris, author of The Edible South: writes:
Bill (Ferris) shared your book with me and it is SO amazing! Just so moved by your incredible research and scholarship. This is such an important work!!! What a gift to southern Jewish studies! (Author of Matzo Ball Cookbooks Series)
William Ferris, author of Voices of Mississippi, writes:
Thanks so much for sending me a copy of your beautiful book Merchants on Issaquena: Avenue of the Blues in Mississippi. You have written a very important book.
Merchants on Issaquena: Avenue of the Blues in Mississippi describes how Clarksdale, Mississippi, became a blues heartland each weekend as black farm workers gathered to shop, eat, and enjoy music on Issaquena Street, where they traded with merchants who had migrated from China, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Syria. Margery Kerstine documents these worlds in detail and helps us appreciate and celebrate the rich racial and ethnic mix of cultures that shaped the blues on Issaquena Street.
Rabbi Micah D. Greenstein, Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel, Memphis, TN writes:
Merchants on Issaquena is a documentary masterpiece, Margie. I spent the last few days reading the entire book. You have brought to life the rich tapestry of immigrant merchants on Issaquena Ave and the heart of Clarksdale in such vivid detail. The book is a history lesson even more than a geographic memoir. My son's namesake, Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, founder of the American Jewish Archives, was on my mind as I turned every page. The book is so illuminating, from the intersection of the street with the economic, civil rights, and migration history of the South, to the building tour, which is chock full of anecdotes behind the incredible schematics chronicling precisely where everything was and when. You even explained the etymological meanings of Coahoma, Issaquena, and Clarksdale itself! I think the big surprise for readers will be shattering the myth of Southern insularity given the diverse and divergent cultures, ethnicities, races, and religions living side by side.
I got chills at times, especially upon learning that individuals like your father actually remembers when W. C. Handy came to town. Wow. The way you weave in the history of the times, e.g., the 1927 flood, the preceding 1920-1921 depression and subsequent great depression and the formation of "Jewish Merchant" Street was phenomenal. The photographs really add to the book too, Margie.
I never knew many things you document and recount in your book, including how the cherished Temple Israel Religious School director Daisy (and Abe) Aronoff took over management of the Savoy.
What really hit me was the way you wove in our co-worker Tom Trass and his recollections.
It's always fun to see names of our shabbes regulars like BeJay and Anne, and that photo of Irwin and Hilda from yesteryear (1951) filled my heart too.
In section two, I read storefronts closely, e.g., Labens Quality Store, Califf's, Jacobsons, Kerstine's, Magdovitz, Abe May, Binders, Irwin's Bargain store, etc. The anecdote about Annie overpricing her inventory when selling it to Leon Binder didn't go unnoticed. What a stitch! And the photos in this section are also so clear and helpful. Fun too, like Max in that great car in front of building 9.
Kudos on the Aaron Henry section. A true civil rights giant and person of great character who brings honor to the history of civil and human rights within and beyond Mississippi.
Thank you for preserving the "all" of Issaquena, including the African American professionals and medical community. Ditto for Edith and Henry Jew. Their eventual acceptance in the local schools is a positive, but the separate and unequal status for blacks makes this an exception to the rule, of course! Still, a lovely story of acceptance.
Cindy Shankerman Loewenberg is an old friend and I especially enjoyed learning more about Irvin, Philip and their Clarksdale story. Ditto for Max and Saul Kaufman and the Roxy next door! In short, you made me feel as though I was there, and for a Delta Jew by Choice like me, it filled in lots of gaps.
As I head to the chapel to lead Friday evening services, my mind can only imagine what Saturday shopping days on Issaquena Avenue were like
Yasher koach, Margie. Thank you for sharing your work with me. Your Memphis rabbi is so proud of you as he walks past the Clarksdale Temple windows minutes from now!
Jimmy Sherman Jr. (Son of Philip and Martha Sherman)
I just turned 61 and my brother gave me your book for my birthday. My father was Jimmy Sherman, my grandfather was Philip Sherman and my great- grandfather was Joe Sherman. Thank you so much for writing and putting this together. It brings back memories of so many people I knew and stories my daddy told me. When I was 2-3 years old my grandfather would take me down Issaquena Ave. to show me to his friends. This book is something I can pass to my children and grandchildren to show our history and heritage. Thanks again.
Sylvia Friedman Elsner (daughter of Dorothy Califf Friedman) writes:
I'm so excited to read this book that shares about my grandparents and others in Clarksdale, MS, who worked on Issaquena. I remember going to Mama and Papa Califf's store there and spending time with them. And the big old cash register was really amazing. Such fond memories of time spent with them in their store and house.
Then Sylvia added; How wonderful. Know you’re thrilled to have your “baby” published. I’m so excited to read it and just ordered it on kindle. All the best to you. Thank you for making a record of so many of our relatives and ancestors.
Dr. Jack Resneck (son of Sam and Nellie Resneck) writes:
Just ordered the book on Amazon. Myron sent me a link. Took my son and his kids last year and tried to explain Issaquena on Saturday night or working in my uncle Ben’s store at Christmas time. Same with my daughter and her family a couple of years ago. This should help. Thanks.
Harry Friedman (son of Robert and Joyce Friedman) writes:
I just bought your book. Thanks so much for all your efforts. Your work has really grown and the insights into my family are a revelation. In fact, your history of the Jews of the area are a real treasure, and I will spend hours exploring your writings. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Joe Curry writes:
Thanks for sharing. I will take a look at the book as I am sure it will bring back many fun memories. I actually worked at Jacobson’s furniture store on that street one year during Christmas season. My oldest brother who worked full time at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company on Fourth Street also worked part time late afternoons at Jacobson all year long to earn extra cash. I vividly remember the Saturday nights bustling with people along Issaquena shopping, eating going to juke joints and just simply hanging out enjoying themselves. People from throughout Clarksdale would be there as well as many people who lived in the many surrounding rural areas on plantations. Country people as we called them would come into town to hang out, shop and socialize. It was quite a life plus it was safe. Never heard of murders. A couple of guys might have a bit too much to drink and engage in a wrestling match or fist fight with an occasional knife but that was the extent of violence. I would trade anything to have those days back. Life was pretty good for us despite going to the cotton fields to chop and pick Cotton. That’s all we knew at the time as that’s just the way it was for black people in the south. I also remember there being a big annual Christmas parade down Issaquena and fourth street with both sides of the streets lined with people scrambling for tossed candy and enjoying the marching bands and all. Lastly, my life took a complete turn for the better after moving to Chicago at age
13-14. It was then that I realized that there really was a better life in many respects. I took advantage of if by finishing high school at Marshall, earning all-city as a defensive back then headed off to college where I eventually earned a bachelor and master degree. I L earned early on it’s not so much how and where you start rather how and where you finish.
Suzanne Aronoffs Burnett
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! Gary and I love your book. We are so impressed with all the work that you did. Just wonderful !!!! Truly a labor of love !! So many people all over the U.S, do not realize how diversified Clarksdale, MS was. When Gary was at the University of Michigan
Medical School, I was asked if I'd ever worn shoes before coming to Michigan, and they were certainly surprised that I spoke with a southern accent. I was a pharmacist at the University of Michigan Hospital.
We so enjoy your book that we have ordered several for friends, one for my former roommate at Ole Miss who has PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and lives in Mobile, AL., and one for a pharmacist friend in TN.