Being a newcomer to this region of Mississippi, I certainly can’t claim to be an accurate historian about the place, so much of the information I will share are the facts I have read in history books and from spending cherished hours listening to the locals who have been in Clarksdale most of their lives. After all, it’s their history to tell, and I am just an eager “newbie” who is trying to absorb all I can about this fascinating place.
In the early 1940’s the population of Clarksdale was about 12,000 – 10,000 of which were African American. The majorities of people worked on plantations or were share croppers and were largely illiterate. Going into town to the New World District was a main form of entertainment as urbanization started to change the rural lifestyle of the Delta.
The New World District (Once referred to as the Beale Street of Clarksdale) is located on the stretch of Issaquena south of the Railroad tracks and around to 4th Avenue (now MLK). There are several different stories of how this neighborhood received this name but it has been referenced this way at least as far back as the turn of the century.
During 1941-1942, a team of researchers including Alan Lomax and John Work made a trip to Clarksdale to gather information for the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma county study. During this time they documented the lively culture that existed in the New World District. Juke Joints, rooming houses, retail shops and restaurants lined the streets that were filled with people from the plantations during down times.
AN Rossie Sr and his wife Saddie owned and operated the original Roxy Theater in the late 1940’s when the local economy was booming and many businesses were expanding. Sometime in the late 1940’s the New Roxy was built by the Rossie family as an expansion of the original Roxy Theater. The Roxy Theater was reported to have hosted live musicians in addition to showing movies but I’ve not located very much documentation or oral stories to confirm this fact. It is reported that Muddy Waters and his band played the grand opening of the New Roxy in the fall circa 1950.
Like many businesses on this block, the New Roxy, was a white owned business catering to black customers. The theater was known for showing Westerns and other popular movies of the time. Lash LaRue and Al “Fuzzy” St. John, well known Western actors of the time, made personal appearances here.
In the 70’s the genre of “Blacksploitation” movies such as Blackula and Shaft were popular.
In the early 1980’s AN Rossie Jr. re-opened the New Roxy for a few years but it has been closed since then.
1999-2008 There were several owners during this time that had plans to develop the property but sadly none were ever realized and the theater sat vacant and decaying until June 2008 when I purchased the theater with a partner and of the journey of rebuilding began.
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