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11:45 PM / Monday July 4, 2022

12 Mar 2012

American Pilgrimage, Mississippi music, movies, movements and more (part 3)

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March 12, 2012 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon

 

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We have been following in the footsteps of the Delta bluesmen and we have only scratched the surface. The Blues Trail is constantly evolving and on February 23rd the 150th historic marker was installed. This trail is well established and marked but it is by no means the only path of interest. The state has so much to offer that they have developed a series of thematic routes that are easily followed and interpret various aspects of life in Mississippi. Information and brochures are available at visitor centers and on the web. www.msbluestrail.org

 

The Mississippi Old State Capitol (1839-1903) is the tour’s most important public building. The Ordinance of Secession, the infamous 1865 Black Codes effectively restricting blacks post-war progress and the 1890 state Constitution legally disenfranchising blacks, were passed here. Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve in Congress, was elected senator here in 1870. The building today houses the MS State Historical Museum and the first permanent Civil Rights exhibit in the nation. www.mdah.state.ms.us/oldcap

 

The Farish Street Historic District was once the 175-acre center of black socio-economic life. The majority of the buildings were designed and erected by black craftsmen between 1890 and 1930.

 

After integration the neighborhood fell into disrepair and is now undergoing restoration. Two of the most significant structures that remain are the Alamo Theater and Collins Funeral Home. The Alamo was a stop on the “Chitlin Circuit” and all the major black stars of the era performed there.

 

Farish Street was the scene of the march of 4,000 mourners following the hearse of Medgar Evers on June 15, 1963 in 101-degree heat. His body was taken to the Collins Funeral Home for preparation for burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

 

Medgar and Myrlie Evers lived in a one-story home on Guynes Street. It was in the driveway of this home that he was shot and killed with a 1918 Enfield rifle at 12:20 AM on June 12, 1963 by Byron de la Beckwith. Tours are by appointment only. 601-977-7710.

 

The MS Agriculture & Forestry Museum/ National Agricultural Aviation Museum is a site on the Jackson City Tour. This 41-site complex consists of 40-acres with indoor and outdoor exhibits. The outdoor exhibits have been relocated from area farms to replicate a 1920s farm. A highlight of the exterior tour is the oldest operating 1860 Bisland Cotton Gin in the world.

 

The 35,000-sq. ft. museum tour begins with a short orientation film and continues chronologically with dioramas, videos and information panels. The museum displays the 2nd oldest bale of cotton in the US and a replica of Whitney’s cotton gin. www.msagmuseum.org

 

One of the state’s most recent tours was created around sites connected with “The Help.” The route takes you through several cities including Jackson.

 

The historic Fondren District was once part of a 5,000-acre plantation and later the site of a lunatic asylum. Today it is an upscale, hip neighborhood filled with galleries and shops. Kathryn Stockett, the author of “The Help,” grew up in the vicinity and some of the filming took place in the area. Filming took place inside and outside of Brent’s Drugs and the restaurant now exhibits movie props around the room. Even if you are not starstruck the food here is wonderful. The driving tour is available online.

 

Jackson State University is one of the largest of the country’s historically black colleges. It was founded in Natchez in 1877 and in 1882 it was relocated to Jackson. Situated on the campus is the Penguin Restaurant & Bar, an absolute “must dine.” This new restaurant pays homage to a previous campus eatery. Owner and operator, John Hardy, has kept the signature dish, the Penguin Hotdog, on the menu and I dare you to eat the whole thing. www.thepenguinms.com

 

Former slaves Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin Green founded Mound Bayou in 1887. An earlier settlement on Jefferson Plantation near Vicksburg was dismantled after 18 years when the family of Jefferson Davis reclaimed the land. Today Mound Bayou is believed to be the nation’s largest completely African American municipality.

 

Peter’s Pottery, owned by four brothers, is located in Mound Bayou. Their internationally famous pottery is crafted from Mississippi clay and glazed in the brothers’ iconic Bayou Blue. George W. Bush has purchased their work. www.peters-pottery.net

 

Ninety-five percent of “The Help” was filmed in Greenwood and this is where the cast and crew lived during the 56-day shoot. Many of them stayed at the Alluvian Hotel, constructed in 1917, as the Hotel Irving and completely renovated in 2003. This luxurious hotel is consistently listed on the Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List.

 

There are 14 film locations on the driving tour including the homes of Hilly Holbrook, Celia Foote, Skeeter Phelan, Minnie Jackson and Aibileen Clark. Baptist Town, a historic black neighborhood, was the setting for the black neighborhood in the film. Minny and Aibilene’s Church was located in Little Zion M.B. Church, also the site of one of the three graves of Robert Johnson.

 

Visitor’s can also replicate the stars dining experiences and one of their favorites was the Delta Bistro. The female chef, Taylor Bowen Ricketts, has been nominated for the James Beard Award. www.greenwoodms.org

 

Cleveland, MS’ Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University is a perfect place to fill in any gaps in your knowledge of the Delta’s music and culture. A jewel here is the collection of Blues singer’s masks on display in Ewing Hall. Artist Sharon McConnell moved to the Delta to craft these life masks of the legendary musicians. This amazing showcase is made even more powerful by the fact that Ms. McConnell is blind. www.blueshighway.org

 

The railroad was located in Cleveland in 1884 because it is located midway between Memphis and Vicksburg and the Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum is another of Cleveland’s unique sites. The museum preserves and presents the story of the impact that the railroad had on the area. The heart of the exhibition is a 70′ by 17′ model train layout representing “Anytown, MS.”

 

Merigold has two legendary Delta institutions that make this an important stop. Lee and Pup McCarty started their pottery business in 1954 in an old mule barn along Highway 61. They have expanded their complex to include a fine dining establishment, an informal eatery and stunning gardens. Their pottery is internationally renowned and they have been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award. There is an on-site shop. wwwmccartyspottery.com

 

Po’ Monkey’s on RR49 is widely considered the last authentic rural jook joint. Situated amidst fields of cotton it doesn’t get more authentic than this. Please note that it is only open on Thursdays. www.visitclevelandms.com

 

Never visit the Delta without a stop in Clarksdale, the “Birthplace of the Blues,” no matter how many times you are in the area. The Delta Blues Museum, the oldest Blues museum in the country, deserves multiple visits as do the and the plethora of Clarksdale’s historic markers. Best of all, there is always something new to learn. www.visitclarksdale.com

 

On my most recent visit I took an eye-opening tour of the Riverside Hotel with the owner Frank Ratliff. On September 26, 1937, in the wee hours of the morning, Bessie Smith and her chauffeur, Richard Morgan, were driving from Memphis to Clarksdale on Highway 61.Their Packard hit a stalled truck and Bessie was seriously injured. She was taken to the G. Thomas African American Hospital where she died at 11:30 AM. The hospital closed in 1940 and was shortly thereafter was purchased by Ratliff’s mother and converted into the Riverside Hotel.

 

The hotel is an international destination and is often booked years in advance. No other lodgings have the Blues history or ambience of the Riverside. Ike Turner’s seminal “Rocket 88” was written in the basement. Guests often request certain rooms that are linked to the cast of artists who have slept there. Here is a cheat sheet so you know which room to ask for, Muddy Waters #5, John Lee Hooker #6, the Five Blind Boys #s 6,7,8, Sam Cooke #7, Ike Turner (pre-Tina) #9, Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin #10 and Martin Luther King #11. John F. Kennedy Jr’s accommodations are not numbered because the suite has been renamed in his honor. The hotel retains the original woodwork and doors and rooms 5 and 11 have the original furniture. The hotel has 21 rooms for rent starting at $65 per night. www.ratpackstlouis.com/riverside_hotel.htm

 

Yazoo County was named after the river that in the local Native American language meant “river of death.” Yazoo City, the county seat, was originally called Manchester. A 1904 fire destroyed 75 percent the city and the reconstructed Yazoo City Town Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance in 1979. Yazoo City was recognized as having the “Best Old House Neighborhoods 2012: The South.” www.thisoldhouse.com

 

For 125-years the Oakes family resided in the home that is now the Oakes African American Cultural Center. The museum features the history of the family as well as that of other African Americans from the county.

 

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1868 and in 1890 the congregation erected the first African American brick church in the state. Guided tours are available for a closer view of the original pulpit furniture and bell tower.

 

Arguably the most famous resident of the city is the “Witch of Yazoo,” made famous by author Willie Morris. The legend states that the woman was a recluse who, while chasing two boys from her property, slipped into quicksand and died. Before she died she cursed the town with a prediction of a fire. To be safe the citizens buried her in Glenwood Cemetery and chained her down. After the May 25, 1904 fire people checked her gravesite. The chains were broken! Thirteen paces away from her Willie Morris is buried. You can visit them both. www.yazoo.org

 

Yazoo City is home to the September 2012 Fire & Feast Barbecue Competition & Festival. Award winning pit masters from across the country compete in this professional competition. The good news is that you can enjoy internationally famous barbecue in the city anytime at Ubon’s Barbecue of Yazoo. For five generations they have been making delicious ribs with their family sauce. www.ubons.net

 

For additional information go to www.visitthedelta.com and www.visitmississippi.org

 

I wish you smooth travels!

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