After Vicksburg, we made our way to Jackson, the state capitol of Mississippi. We took a long and roundabout way into Jackson, by way of Clinton (where we met some local college kids) and a suburb called Pearl (had to stop by the BassPro to pick up more flies!). While at the BassPro, Laura talked to some people at the restaurant who were intrigued by our bikes. She told them about our trip and they warned her “whatever you do, don’t go to Jackson!” This seems to be a reoccurring theme in our travels – people wary of what lays just beyond the border of their own town/state/country.
In Arizona and New Mexico, people warned us about Texas. In Austin, people warned us about the strange folks that live in the piney woods of East Texas. And just about everyone we have talked to has warned us about the entire state of Louisiana (sorry, Louisiana, it’s true!). So we are use to it by now and take things with a grain of salt.
As expected, Jackson wasn’t as anywhere near bad as it has been made out to be. We had a wonderful homestay with Stacey (a jewelry maker that Laura knows through EtsyMetal), Ryan and their two boys. They made amazing BBQ ribs (ranks as the best of the trip right now!) and treated us to some of their favorite restaurants. We talked about art and zombies, played Legos and Kill Dr. Lucky, and watched movies. While no jewelry got made during our stay, it was great to meet (in person) another independent (and self-taught!) jewelry maker and swap stories. Thanks Stacey & Ryan!
We also got to meet the folks of the Jackson Bike Advocates, a fledgling bicycle advocacy group in town. We met up with Lizzie who gave us a short cultural tour of the city, including visiting some warehouse-turned-artist-studio spaces in Jackson. One space had an amazing grassy yard in the back, with a garden and some chickens. One doesn’t think of Jackson as a hotbed for art and bicycling, but there are a dedicated few that are slowly banding together. In fact, we met a woman who (along with her husband) was a transplant from Portland, Oregon – and who credited the small community in Jackson for their artistic successes.
Lizzie also brought us to Farish Street, a street in Jackson that has a proud history of black-owned businesses. From the Farish Street website, it is the only “African American Historic District listed on the National Register that was built by former slaves whose great-great grandchildren still work and live in the area.” In fact, it felt like we had stepped into a sort of time warp, to a world that had only previously existed in history books. We ate at a small cafe called Peach’s – true soul food and atmosphere. The area was a little worse for wear, with lots of shuttered businesses or storefronts in various states of disrepair, which is a shame for a place that has been witness to such amazing history.
Right before our presentation, Lizzie took us to the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson for a quick beer. The King Edward had been recently opened and is magnificent – a victory for the developers that took on the project. The history of the hotel is fascinating and troubling – it remained segregated as long as possible (even as nearby businesses started to integrate), and shuttered its doors as soon as integration was required. From some accounts, it closed its doors before it would serve black customers. From others, a short time after it did segregate, white patrons left and forced its closure.
We gave our presentation at the Jackson Community Design Center and had about 25 attendees. The JBA was kind enough to get snacks and drinks for our guests. Though a smallish group, everyone was pretty enthusiastic and we got some good questions at the end. One woman from BikeWalkMississippi drove all the way down from Oxford, MS to attend (thanks Vivian!). After the presentation we got to meet the various people that were involved in trying to promote cycling in Jackson. While a small group, they are dedicated and represent different corners of the city. One person worked for the local weekly, another worked in design and planning, and another was involved in the arts community – but each of them had a strong interest in promoting cycling in Jackson, not just because they like bikes, but also because they see that bikeable cities make great vibrant and energized communities.
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