Greenwood Soul Mate — Sylvester Hoover
What is “soul?” For us, soul is that special something each person brings to their community, forming a colorful tapestry of stories, talents, cultural experiences and more. Greenwood’s tapestry is composed of dozens of unique individuals who are why the city is the epitome of its mantra – “Delta Spirit, Southern Soul”. Their rich stories and deep connections to the region’s food, music, and history make us who we are as a town and a wonderful place to visit. These are Greenwood’s “Soul Mates.”
Today’s Soul Mate is Sylvester Hoover, owner of Hoover’s Grocery, the Back in the Day Museum, and head of the Delta Blues Legends and Civil Rights Tours in Baptist Town, a historical Greenwood neighborhood.
Sylvester Hoover speaks with all the familiar warmth of an old friend, even if you’ve never met him.
He’s 65 years old and has lived in Greenwood his whole life, the youngest of nine siblings and the last to stay in the Mississippi Delta. Of course, Hoover doesn’t know why he ever would leave, considering how he’s always wanted to stay here and live a decent life out of pure love for the area.
It’s perfect. The people and the culture, everybody gets along with everybody. In Greenwood, you know almost everybody. I entertain my guests here really well because I can go anywhere with them, all parts of Greenwood, and any place we want to go is open and welcoming.
Hoover has been providing tours of Greenwood and its history with the blues and civil rights ever since he bought a grocery store in Baptist Town in 1982, now known as Hoover’s Grocery. Baptist Town is a historic African American neighborhood located east of downtown Greenwood. Once known as a haven for bluesmen and legendary artists, a Mississippi Blues Trail marker was erected there in 2009, noting its contribution to the blues.
Hoover most recently gave a tour to travelers visiting all the way from the Netherlands. He speaks as if the tours started happening almost by coincidence:
I’ve always been invested in both civil rights and blues history. I grew up during that era in the heart of it. My dad is the one that got me connected with the blues. He made moonshine and would sell it wherever he played the blues, and he knew Robert Johnson and Honey Boy Edwards, so he inspired me to listen to the blues and learn more about it and its musicians. Being in Baptist Town, I knew Robert Johnson was buried nearby, so I started talking about it to people and giving tours. The rest is history!
That connection between the history of the blues and civil rights in Greenwood is what Hoover’s all about. Born in 1957, Hoover was in the heart of both, growing up in Greenwood. He always emphasizes the inherent connectedness of the blues and civil rights to those who embark with him on his tours. To him, the blues is about people finding connection over shared struggles. Hoover believes that the blues, the one true form of American music, can bring people from all walks of life together.
Blues is going to be the connecting bridge for people. I see people from everywhere, I’ll take them to Robert Johnson’s gravesite, and they’ll all act like they’ve known each other their whole lives. I’ve met so many people now that I never wouldn’t have met without the blues.
What does “soul” mean to Sylvester Hoover? To him, it’s the unique flavor he and every other individual in Greenwood collectively bring to the town. He touts himself as authentic and truthful and speaks about how everything he does is a learning experience. Running his historical tours is fulfilling for Hoover because he sees how history impacts people through their expressions alone.
I see the look on people’s faces. People from all over the world come here and say, ‘Wow! Wow! Wow!’ about the whole experience.
But make no mistake. Greenwood isn’t just about the past to Hoover.
People think that when you come to Greenwood, you’re going back in time 200 years. Not at all. You’ve come to the best place in the world. We’ve got the history, but we’ve also got the food, the spas, everything.
Hoover describes Greenwood as if it’s at its own metaphorical crossroads and that the town has been making the right choices for years.
If Sylvester Hoover could describe Greenwood in one word, it would be: “Unique.”
Nowhere else in the world is like Greenwood. I’ve been all over the world, and every time I come back home, I tell my wife, ‘I’ve been gone for two weeks, I’m sick of where I’ve been at, I just want to smell some Delta dirt!’