The “City with Soul” has a rich and diverse local history. When planning your visit, choose one of these free Civil Rights and literary driving tours in Jackson, Mississippi, or design an itinerary of your own.
This post is the final installment of a 7-part Mississippi Road Trip series. The first segment entitled How My Books Landed in the de Grummond Collection at USM details the backstory of my drive from Central Florida to Hattiesburg. On the second leg of my journey I traveled to Historical Natchez, Mississippi, where I toured four of this city’s grand antebellum homes. Part 3 is the story of my drive on the Mississippi Backroads Between Natchez and Vicksburg where I visited a ghost town, walked the cinematic Windsor Ruins, and ate the worlds’s best fried chicken. Then I learned How to Spend 36 Hours in Vicksburg, Mississippi and The Best Way to Visit Vicksburg National Military Park. Now it was time to tour Jackson, the “City with Soul.”
I knew it would delay my arrival in Jackson, but I could not leave Vicksburg without fully completing the drive through the National Military Park. So as always when time is of the essence, I opted for the interstate and hopped on I-20. Even though the westbound drive took less than an hour, I was anxious to get started on the itinerary prepared by my hosts Visit Jackson and Visit Mississippi.
Table of Contents
- 1 Jackson Driving Tours
- 1.1 The Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour
- 1.2 The Eudora Welty Driving Tour
- 1.3 “The Help” Driving Tour
- 1.4 The Southern Literary Trail
- 1.5 Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
- 1.6 Map It!
- 1.7 We Would Love to Hear From You
- 1.8 Pin this Post!
- 1.9 A Southern Mississippi Road Trip Series
- 1.10 Helpful Links
Jackson Driving Tours
As a confirmed roadtripper, I love doing themed driving tours, and when you visit Jackson, Mississippi, you will have a wide selection of tours to choose from. Because I only had one day to spend in Jackson, and because my interests were primarily historical and literary, the representative from Visit Jackson chose to show me select locations from various itineraries as an overview rather than complete a single tour. As we were finalizing our custom itinerary, my guide casually mentioned one of the historical sites we could visit, and tears sprang to my eyes. I knew this day was destined to become one of the most memorable in my travels.
The Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour
In my first career as a middle school teacher I taught an annual thematic unit on the modern Civil Rights Movement. Some of the most moving moments of my travels have been when I was able to visit in person the places I taught about for so many years. I wrote about one of those times in my post Retracing the Selma to Montgomery March. The focus title for my Civil Rights unit of study was A Dream of Freedom by Diane McWhorter, and during our drive through Jackson, I would recall many photos and passages I first studied in that book.
The Jackson Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour takes you to 81 historical sites in four neighborhoods. This project sponsored by the City of Jackson has been published in an informative 64-page brochure complete with maps, photos, and descriptions.
Update December 2018: Based on our research, it appears this publication has gone out of print. Hopefully, an updated tour will be available soon. Until then, there is a Civil Rights Heritage Tour posted to the Visit Jackson website.
Here are some highlights from this tour, numbered to fit the itinerary.
2. The New Mississippi State Capitol
The “New Capitol” completed in 1903 is where the Mississippi legislature passed Jim Crow laws as well as the current HB1523. James Meredith’s “March Against Fear” ended here with a rally featuring many notable speakers including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
9. Former Greyhound Bus Station
This prominent site from the 1961 Freedom Rides against segregation in interstate travel has been lovingly renovated by architect Robert Parker Adams, whose firm occupies the art deco structure today.
11. Collins Funeral Home
On June 15, 1963, a throng of 4,000 mourners marched from the Masonic Temple through the Farish Street Historic District to Collins Funeral Home where slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers body would be prepared for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Owner Mrs. Clarie Collins Harvey had previously organized Jackson’s women to minister to the needs of imprisoned Freedom Riders.
12. Civil Rights Group Offices and the Big Apple Inn
Adjacent to Collins Funeral Home is a historical structure that houses the Big Apple Inn, one of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in town, famous for its pig ear sandwiches. Several Civil Rights groups and leaders, including Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer, kept offices in the building upstairs.
66. Medgar Evers Library and Statue
Dedicated in 1991, a life-sized statue of slain Mississippi NAACP field secretary Medgar Wiley Evers is situated adjacent to the Medgar Evers Library, less than a mile from his home.
69. Medgar Evers Home and Museum
You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.
Without question, the high point of my visit to Jackson and the location that brought me to tears more than once that day was our private tour of Medgar Evers Home and Museum with curator Minnie Watson. It was a combination of things that made the visit so emotionally moving for me, more than just standing on the very spot where an innocent man was martyred in his own driveway. It was flashbacks to my students gathered in our reading corner learning about this incredible man of integrity whose own family called him a saint. I remembered remarking to my students what a huge deal that was because your family knows ALL your business!
The Evers Home was unmistakably recognizable also because Ghosts of Mississippi, a movie about the trial and subsequent conviction of Medgar Evers’ assassin starring Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg, was shot on location there. Castle Rock Entertainment left the house staged as it was in the movie for the benefit of the museum. See our article Mississippi Backroads Between Natchez & Vicksburg for another location from this movie.
You can drive by the Medgar Evers House as listed in the itinerary, but tours inside the home are by appointment only. You may contact Tougaloo College Library and Information Services at 601-977-7706 or email the office at email@example.com to schedule a visit. Tours are free, but donations are encouraged.
Many of the sites on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour are also stops on the Mississippi Freedom Trail which extends throughout the state. Freedom Trail Markers are included in this gallery of Civil Rights Historical Markers.
The Eudora Welty Driving Tour
Writers and travelers are mesmerized alike by knowing of their destinations.
Jackson has a rich literary heritage that complements its checkered history, and its most widely-recognized writer is Eudora Welty. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her 1973 novel The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty was a lifelong resident of Mississippi’s capital city. She is also known for her award-winning short stories and a collection of autobiographical essays entitled One Writer’s Beginnings.
The Eudora Welty Driving Tour takes visitors through eleven prominent sites from the author’s life and literature. Again, the following tour highlights are numbered to fit the itinerary.
1. The Eudora Welty House and Garden
The first stop on the driving tour is the Eudora Welty House and Garden where the author lived from 1925 until her death in 2001. Our visit began in the Education and Visitors Center just across the driveway from the house. Guests are invited to view the exhibits and orientation film and tour the garden at no charge. Guided tours of the house and garden are offered Tuesday through Friday four times per day for a nominal fee.
Visitors are not allowed to take photos inside the house, but I was able to capture external elements of the house and garden, especially the lovely Camellia Room in full bloom. The reconstructed Clubhouse, originally built by Eudora’s brothers Walter and Edward later became a hangout for the young writer and her artsy comrades. The table display, I was told, was indicative of wicked pranks the inhabitants played on each other.
Camellias were Eudora’s favorite flower, and the garden features more than thirty varieties. The Eudora Welty Garden is one of the American Camellia Society’s Gulf Coast Camellia Trail Gardens, as is Bok Tower Gardens near my home in Central Florida.
2. Davis Magnet School
Eudora Welty’s childhood neighborhood on North Congress Street is less than a mile drive away from her adult home in the Belhaven neighborhood. The second stop on the tour is Davis Magnet School, formerly Jefferson Davis Grammar School, where Eudora enrolled in first grade at age five.
3. Eudora Welty’s Childhood Home
Diagonally across the street from the school at 741 N. Congress Street is Eudora Welty’s childhood home, now the offices of a management consulting firm.
Although not an official stop on the Eudora Welty Driving Tour, literary fans may be interested in knowing that directly across the street at 736 N. Congress St. is the childhood home of Richard Ford, another Pulitzer Prize-winning Jackson native.
5. Eudora Welty’s Grave at Greenwood Cemetery
Photo Credit: Visit Jackson
Eudora Welty’s parents are buried at Cedarlawn Cemetery across town, but she chose to be buried beside her older brother Christian who died in infancy so he would not be alone. Jackson’s 1823 Greenwood Cemetery is not only the location of Eudora Welty’s grave, but also the final resting place of many Confederate generals, Mississippi governors, Jackson mayors, and other prominent Jacksonians, both black and white. The cemetery has three historical walking tours to suit varied interests: the General Walking Tour, African American Tour, and the Confederate Tour.
“The Help” Driving Tour
Image Credit: Penguin Books and Touchstone Pictures
The Help Driving Tour is based on locations mentioned in the popular 2009 novel by Jackson native Kathryn Stockett. This fictional account tells the story of African American maids who worked in the affluent white Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson in the early 1960s. Some of the stops on the driving tour were also film locations featured in the 2011 movie adaptation of the book. You can learn more about specific Jackson movie locations in the article Mississippi: The Filming Locations of The Help.
The Help Driving Tour has two parts: The Help Belhaven Neighborhood Tour (sites 1-18) and The Help Jackson Tour (including sites 19-30). The two tours are numbered sequentially and the following tour highlights are numbered to match the combined itinerary.
1. The Fairview Inn
The Fairview Inn is an exquisite B&B that once belonged to Jackson’s White Citizen’s Council founder William J. Simmons. In her novel, Kathryn Stockett refers to the property as the Fairview Mansion. Not only was the Fairview Inn a film location for the movie, it was also where many of the stars stayed during location shoots in Jackson. That knowledge makes me feel pretty special, because I stayed in the Asian Suite at the Fairview Inn for my one night in Jackson. My stay at the Fairview Inn was the perfect blend of opulence and comfort, and I should be so lucky to experience luxury accommodations like these more often during my travels.
17. Former Home of Governor Ross Barnett
One of the most infamous segregationists in the early 1960s was Mississippi’s Governor Ross Barnett. This lawyer, Dixiecrat, and Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher arranged for the arrest and imprisonment of the Freedom Riders, attempted to block James Meredith from integrating the University of Mississippi, and shook the hand of Medgar Evers’ killer during his trial while Myrlie Evers was giving her testimony. Governor Barnett sold the house at 904 Fairview Street when his family moved into the Governor’s Mansion downtown.
18. Former Home of Jackson Mayor Allen C. Thompson
Former Jackson Mayor Allen C. Thompson lived in the home at 810 Fairview Street as a child. In the early 1900s, the property was outside the city limits, but eventually the Belhaven neighborhood grew up around it. Mayor Thompson was a strong defender of segregation laws in the early 1960s, implementing the use of the “Thompson Tank” against Civil Rights demonstrators. During his tenure the city of Jackson grew exponentially, building many public facilities and hiring city employees, including Jackson’s first black police officers.
21. Mississippi State Capitol
Also a site on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour, the new Mississippi State Capitol building is open for free guided and self-guided tours during normal weekday business hours. The Old Mississippi Capitol, Jackson’s oldest building, has been fully restored and is now a free museum that explores its history from 1839-1903.
22. Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel
The Sun-n-Sand was a popular hotel in Jackson during the1960s due to its location near the capitol, competitive prices, and a bar that opened following the repeal of anti-liquor laws in 1965. I don’t know about you, but I’m digging that cool retro sign!
24. Mississippi Governor’s Mansion
Situated on an entire city block, the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion became the official residence in 1842 and is recognized as the second-oldest continuously occupied gubernatorial residence in the United States. Free guided tours are available Tuesday-Friday during the morning hours.
29. Freedom Corner
Freedom Corner, located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Medgar Evers Boulevard, is a memorial to the two martyred Civil Rights leaders.
30. Medgar Evers Home and Museum
The final stop on The Help Driving Tour is the Medgar Evers Home and Museum, detailed above on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour
The Southern Literary Trail
Image Credit: Southern Literary Trail ®
The Southern Literary Trail ® is an organization that celebrates the writers of classic Southern literature in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, including two additional notable Jackson writers, Richard Wright and Margaret Walker Alexander. Fans of classic Southern literature like myself will enjoy driving to the homes and associated literary locations of these writers, as well as attending related literary events across the South.
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
One of the most exciting developments in Jackson’s future is the construction of the Museum of Mississippi History and the adjoining Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, both set to open in December 2017.
I have a sneaking suspicion that these museums are destined to become stops on Jackson’s historical and literary driving tours before too long . . . .
We Would Love to Hear From You
I regret that I only had one day to spend in Jackson, Mississippi. It is an intriguing historical city, and I anticipate the opportunity to return and explore many of the locations I missed during my last trip. Have you visited Jackson? If so, we would love to hear your experiences and any recommendations you may have. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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