So Many Ways to Immerse Yourself in Jackson, Mississippi’s African-American History

“Freedom School Student – Ruleville 1964” by Tracy Sugarman. Tougaloo College Art Collections, Tracy Sugarman Collection. Gift of the artist. 2002.07

written by: Sophia V. Nelson

For the past two years, I have pursued a deeper understanding of American History, Black History, and World History by visiting African American historic sites, archives, and museums. In an interview with documentarian Harry Allen, he shared, “I think any act of documentation certainly of Black lives…any act to tell the story, to not have our history erased and the facts of it erased is a powerful act.” Mississippi Museum of Art curator, Elizabeth Abston, said the Museum examined some of the following questions: “What does Mississippi mean today? What are our politics? What is our collection saying? How are we rethinking our permanent collection? And what stories do we want to tell? Or what stories do we want to sort of let unfold?” I believe anyone looking to spend time where they can immerse themselves in African American history, Jackson, Mississippi, is the ideal travel destination.

One would need at least three days to experience a fraction of Jackson, Mississippi’s African American cultural offerings. I plan to return and dig-in again this year. Today, I will share with you what I have experienced during my visits thus far:

This video includes b-roll footage collected during October 2019 Jackson, Mississippi visit. Also, snippets of interviews with Dr. Redell Hearn and Harry Allen.

Mississippi Museum of Art Exhibitions

The Prize: Seven Decades of Lyrical Response to the Call for Civil Rights is described as a “visual—and lyrical—offering of how the quest for social justice in the era of Civil Rights continues to inspire freedom of expression today.” The Art and Civil Rights Initiative is a partnership shared by Tougaloo College and the Mississippi Museum of Art. Curator, Dr. Redell Hearn’s latest work, The Prize, is on view through to February 9, 2020. Dr. Hearn juxtaposes sketches composed by Freedom Summer photographer, Tracy Sugarman, which are part of Tougaloo College Archives & Special Collections with rap, soul, and gospel song lyrics. In an interview with Dr. Hearn, she said her vision for The Prize is to illustrate “freedom of expression in lyrics, in imagery, in the written word as well.”

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument: 

Before being gunned down in the driveway of his home on June 12, 1963, World War II veteran and Mississippi NAACP field secretary, Medgar Evers, shared the residence with his wife Myrlie Evers and kids. The Evers family donated the home to Tougaloo College in 1993. It was designated a national historic landmark by the National Park Service in 2016. According to Tougaloo College Archives & Special Collections website, guided tours can be scheduled by calling 601-977-7706 or emailing libraryservices@tougaloo.edu.  

Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument
Historic marker on the Mississippi Freedom Trail which details the historical significance of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home

Margaret Walker Center & COFO Civil Rights Center

When asked, “Why should visitors incorporate the Margaret Walker Center and COFO in their Jackson, Mississippi travel plans?” the Centers’ new Education & PR Manager, Lance Wheeler, shared the following: 

“Both spaces tell a pivotal story of African-American achievement, academically and economically, and their strides in the fight for equality to be treated as first-class citizens. The history found within these walls narrates the stories of legends to not only communities in Jackson but the entire state.

The Margaret Walker Center places Margaret Walker on the platform she deserves. She took the lead in advocating in the Black Study movement, and that story is fleshed out in the center’s space. As a bonus, visitors also have the opportunity to learn more history about the founding of Jackson State University and its Natchez, Mississippi origins.

When visiting COFO Education Center, visitors will learn how the organization formed in 1961 and its role as an umbrella organization, found only in Mississippi. COFO housed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other local organizations. 

Visitors can also embark upon a tour while learning about the historic John R. Lynch corridor and the significance of COFO’s positioning on that street.”

For additional information on the Margaret Walker Center and COFO, call 601-979-3935. 

Gift items and books that are for purchase at the Margaret Walker Center

Museum of Mississippi History & Mississippi Museum of Civil Rights (Two Mississippi Museums):

When asked, “Why should visitors incorporate the Two Mississippi Museums in their Jackson, Mississippi travel plans? How is history interpreted at the two locations?” Deputy Director of Programs and Communication, Stephenie Morrisey, gave the following: 

Mississippi’s story is the nation’s story. The Museum of Mississippi History tells the entire sweep of the state’s story from the earliest times to the present, including the Civil Rights Era. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum puts a closer focus on that period in Mississippi history that was not only central to the state’s experience, but to the nation and the world.

Visit  mscivilrightsmuseum.com and museumofmshistory.com to learn more about our hours, tickets, and upcoming programs.

Mississippi Blues Trail:

A video on the Mississippi Blues Trail website states the trail is “the key to hundreds of landmarks across the state of Mississippi.” The Blues Trail’s website is a brimful resource that has a comprehensive list of blues-related Museums throughout Mississippi, a calendar of events, films, and merchandise. 

According to the Blues Trail Marker List, there are over ten markers located in Jackson, Mississippi. I happened to stumble upon The Alamo Theatre which is home to the Dorothy Moore/Alamo historical marker. Grammy-nominated, chart-topping recording artist Dorothy Moore is known for her cover of “Misty Blue.” I was lucky enough to cross paths with Dorothy Moore as she was heading into the Alamo for a board meeting. Soon after that chance encounter, I pulled up Ms. Moore’s extensive music catalog on a streaming service, and it soundtracked my way through some of Jackson, Mississippi’s picturesque residential and business communities. 

Additional Suggested Points of Interest to Consider while visiting Jackson, Mississippi

Smith Robertson Museum & Cultural Center 

The Mississippi Freedom Trail has over ten historic sites in Jackson, including Tougaloo College and Jackson State University. Asides from their connection to the American Civil Rights Movement, the aforementioned HBCUs have a beautiful landscape and historic structures that seem to symbolize each school’s rich legacy. 

For those interested in the following themes: Public History, Museum Studies, Hip-Hop specifically Public Enemy, and Art Initiatives check out these full interviews conducted with Dr. Redell Hearn and Harry Allen.

Interview with Dr. Redell Hearn, Curator of Art & Civil Rights for Tougaloo College and the Mississippi Museum of Art
Interview with Harry Allen, documentarian and creator of “Shooting the Enemy: My Life in Pictures With The People Who Became Public Enemy” lecture.

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