Jackson, Mississippi Inspires Visitors with Civil Rights History

History & Heritage, Site InSpections

Captivating civil rights history, Mississippi heritage, world-class performances and stunning visual art comprise Jackson

The soulful city of Jackson, Mississippi, once the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement, pays tribute to those who fought for justice and human rights. Jackson honors the incomprehensible struggles and triumphs of one of the nation’s darkest periods through fascinating museums and historical landmarks.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

The eight galleries at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum tell the story of Mississippi’s place at the center of the National Civil Rights Movement and is the perfect place to begin your Jackson experience. In the heart of the museum, “This Little Light of Mine” gallery honors civil rights activists with music, light and words. The moment is enriched as more visitors enter the gallery, while the light gets brighter and the gospel music grows, uniting all that stand beneath it.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson

Museum of Mississippi History

The Museum of Mississippi History is adjacent to the Civil Rights Museum and explores 15,000 years of history. As you leave the museum complex, check out the JXN Icons mural on the side of the Old Capitol Inn. In fact, it’s the perfect spot for lunch. Also significant to the city, public art is widely celebrated throughout Jackson gracing the walls, common spaces and streets. For that reason, keep your eyes open as you walk the streets and travel throughout the city.

Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center

Near the State Capitol building, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center celebrates the African-American experience through art, artifacts and photography. The museum houses the Smithsonian Travel Exhibition Services, “Field to Factory: The Afro-American Migration, 1915-1940.”

Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center

Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center

Medger Evers and Other Civil Rights Figures

Tougaloo College is considered the “Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi.” Its Mississippi Civil Rights Collection features a collection of papers from the college and leading individuals from the Movement. The off-campus Medgar and Mylie Evers Home, home of the slain NAACP Field Secretary, is now part of the National Park Service (NPS). Plans are in place to reopen the home and provide visitor services.

The campus of Jackson State University is home to the Margaret Walker Center and the COFO Civil Rights Education Center. While on campus, visit the Medgar Evers Library/Statue and the Freedom Trail Marker representing the historic shootings that occurred during the height if the Civil Rights movement.

Farish Street Historic District in Jackson

A visit to the Farish Street Historic District is a must. This late 19th century neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places and represents 100 years of heritage in the African-American community. Check the renovated Alamo Theater for its schedule of performances. Enjoy lunch at the Big Apple Inn and hear the unique story of its founding and the four generations that followed. Back in the day, the Crystal Palace Night Club hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Now known as Johnny T’s Bistro & Blues there’s still regular performances of legends and up and coming musicians. Come for the music, stay for the exquisite dining.

Freedom Trail Marker Greyhound Bus Station

Freedom Trail Marker Greyhound Bus Station

Civil Rights Landmarks Along the Mississippi Freedom Trail

The Mississippi Freedom Trail Markers provide a tour of the state and the sites that played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement. The 10 Jackson markers tell the story of the city’s importance in the Movement. Now an architectural office, the former Greyhound Bus Station was the last stop on the trail. The Medgar & Myrlie Evers Home is not currently open, but a photo presentation in the attached carport tells the story. Tours are available at the Mississippi State Capitol, while the importance of Jackson State University and Tougaloo College have already been noted. In fact, much of the Movement rose from the churches in the community.

Jackson and the Blues

Much of our American music has roots in Mississippi and Jackson is in the middle of it all, from country to blues and gospel. With a dozen Mississippi Blues Trail Markers, it’s easy to see why Jackson is the “City with Soul.”

Blues artist Dexter Allen and bassist Jonah Nelson perform during the Blue Monday Blues Jam at Hal and Mal's club in Jackson, MS.

Blues artist Dexter Allen and bassist Jonah Nelson perform during the Blue Monday Blues Jam at Hal and Mal’s club in Jackson, MS.

Infamous Record Labels

You might meet your Malaco Records tour guide at the warehouse door. That makes sense since at one time they were the kings of gospel music direct mail sales. It just seems natural that they moved to blues and soul. Walking the halls of this iconic recording company is a real treat. You’ll be amazed at the musical awards gathered by this studio. Portraits of famous musicians who once recorded here line the halls. If you’re in a singing mood and studio time is available your group might be on your way to a hit.

When in the Farish Street Historic District, visit the Trumpet Records marker and the tribute to Dorothy Moore at the Alamo Theater. Although Trumpet Records only existed for four years, they were influential. Other places you’ll find markers are for Bobby Rush, Cassandra Wilson at Brinkley Middle School, Ishmon Bracey at Jim Hill High School, and Otis Spann & Little Johnny Jones.

Eateries to Discover

In addition to music history, eateries like the Queen of Hearts Restaurant is a must stop. The old Edwards Hotel was home to visiting artists and sat vacant for 40 years before becoming the King Edward Hotel. Just up the street is a landmark Jackson eatery and a lunch and dinner favorite, The Mayflower Cafe. In addition, the Subway Lounge in the basement of the Summers Hotel, was Jackson’s first black-owned hotel. Don’t forget Scott Radio Service, one of the first in Mississippi to offer a professional recording studio. Trumpet used Scott for recording blues legends, gospel and country performers.

Dorothy Moore and King Edward in front of the Alamo Theater on Farrish St. in downtown Jackson, MS.

Dorothy Moore and King Edward in front of the Alamo Theater on Farrish St. in downtown Jackson, MS.

Built as the Armour Smokehouse in 1906, today The Iron Horse Grill is a landmark of Mississippi’s music heritage. Begin your evening with a museum tour of the “Mississippi Music Experience.” The unique museum tour should be followed by a delicious meal featuring specialties and local favorites. Three nights a week the magic happens when the stage comes alive with entertaining musical performances.

Celebrating Writers and Performing Arts in Jackson

The city’s historic contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and blues music do not over shadow modern day Jackson’s vibrant arts scene. Several black artists and writers are honored throughout Mississippi and shouldn’t be overlooked on a visit to Jackson.

Honoring Poets and Writers

Eudora Welty was the first writer to be honored on the Mississippi Writers Trail. Another must visit is the Eudora Welty House and Gardens, which welcomes groups to the house, museum and gardens. Margaret Walker Alexander, an American writer and poet, was honored in July 2019. Take time to view her marker at the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University.

Paying Tribute to Ballet and the Theater

Located in the downtown Jackson arts and cultural district, Thalia Mara Hall has a wonderful story to tell. Built in 1968 as the Municipal Auditorium, the Jackson Ballet Guild invited Thalia Maria in 1975 to develop a professional ballet company. The Chicago native with an extensive career of performances worldwide accepted the offer.

Just four years later, she secured the International Ballet Competition (IBC). In fact, Jackson was named by U.S. Congress the official USA home of the IBC and the only US city to host the event.  The event is held every four years, rotating between Jackson, Varna, Bulgaria, Helsinki, Finland, and Moscow, Russia. The hall provides citizens and visitors year-round entertainment. For example, they host opera and symphony performances, theatre including a Broadway Series, and concerts from a wide variety of local, national and international performers.

New Stage Theatre produces five plays annually in addition to a holiday show. The Unframed at New Stage Theatre Series attracts those interested in contemporary theatre, while providing artistic opportunities to emerging artists.

Mississippi Museum of Art

Mississippi Museum of Art

Art Houses and Museums

Established in 1911 with a small collection, the Mississippi Museum of Art’s collection is now approaching 6,000 objects. Accoringly, American art from the 19th and 20th centuries are featured. In fact, prominent artists include Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, Robert Henri and Radcliffe Bailey. In addition, regular traveling exhibitions also grace the walls of the museum. The adjacent 1.2-acre Art Garden has a welcoming lawn with seasonal foliage, native garden beds, permanent art installations and water features. Groups are certainly welcome.

Equally important is the Municipal Art Gallery, which is housed in a home that was built in the 1860s. In fact, it is one of the oldest surviving historical structures in Jackson. Furthermore, it’s a place to enjoy American and Mississippi art, while providing local artists a place to display their works.

International Museum of Muslim Cultures

International Museum of Muslim Cultures

Embracing Muslim Culture in Jackson

Located in the Jackson arts and cultural district, the International Museum of Muslim Cultures opened in 2001. The museum shares the beauty of Muslim cultures throughout the world through artifacts and exhibits. The first major exhibition “Moorish Spain: Its Legacy to Europe and the West” has been joined by “Covenants & Coexistence,” the “Legacy of Timbuktu,” and “The Spirit of Ramadan.” Personalized guided group tours of IMMC are available with advance notice.

As the arts district of the city, Fondren is the hub of owner-operated visual arts, unique boutiques and restaurants bars and bakeries. In fact, each week, there’s something happening in Fondren like art openings, concerts and more. Opportunities throughout Fondren also abound with unique shopping experiences and interesting history and thus is well worth a visit.

Dining Around Jackson

With more than 350 restaurants in Jackson, your group will certainly not go hungry. From the small mom and pop restaurants and diners to James Beard-award winning local chefs, you’ll find the perfect cuisine. In addition to the best southern, seafood, Cajun, Greek, Thai, barbeque and tamales, don’t forget the French patisseries and charming coffee shops scattered throughout Jackson.

For more enticing and inspiring southern group trips, subscribe to the current issue of Leisure Group Travel and start planning today.

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