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The Tallahatchie River is a river in Mississippi which flows 85 miles (137 km) from Quitman County, through Tallahatchie County, to Leflore County, where it joins the Yalobusha River to form the Yazoo River.
Tallahatchie is a Choctaw name meaning "rock of waters.". An alternative interpretation is that "Tallahatchie" means "River City" and is derived from a compound Muscogee (Creek) word "'Tvlwv-hvcce" consisting of "'Tvlwv" (meaning a city or a village) and "Hvcce" (meaning a river).
The river is mentioned in Tallahatchie River Blues, recorded by Mattie Delaney in 1930. This blues song documents the devastation caused in the local African American community by a flood on the normally shallow river. The river is 50 ft (15 m) deep with very sharp rocks that would impale one upon impact.
The river has historical significance due to the murder of Emmett Till, an African American youth who was beaten, shot, and sunk in the river by a cotton gin fan tied around his neck by barbed wire. This event is mentioned in the song, Freedom Highway by The Staple Singers, in the lines, "Found dead people in the forests, Tallahatchie River and lakes... whole world is wondering, what's wrong with the United States?"
The river was popularized in Bobbie Gentry's 1967 hit song Ode to Billie Joe, which has the refrain, "Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie bridge." There was also a film (spelled differently), Ode to Billy Joe. The bridge collapsed in 1972 after being set alight by vandals. It crossed the Tallahatchie River at Money, about ten miles north of Greenwood, Mississippi, and has since been replaced. The November 10, 1967 issue of Life Magazine contained a photo of Gentry crossing the original bridge.