When movie crews descended on Jackson in 2010 to film The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel about the city’s maids in the 1960s, they transformed the streets of its trendiest neighborhood into a retro backdrop. Given locals’ loyalty to mom-and-pop stores like Brent’s Drugs, where you can still sit at the counter and order a chocolate malt, it didn’t take much to pull off cinematic time travel.
This year, Jackson marked the anniversary of one of its most difficult moments 50 years ago, when the civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot in his driveway by a white supremacist.
A lot has changed here in 50 years, though Jackson’s population of fewer than 200,000 still gives it the familiarity of a big country town. Over a dish of peach cobbler at one of the city’s beloved dining spots you can feel time rewind, and Mississippians’ old-fashioned charm is no rumor.
Lately, top-notch restaurants and music venues have joined Jackson’s soul-food restaurants, creating a relaxed marriage of old and new. With community groups organizing music, food and art festivals seemingly every weekend, there’s never been a better time to visit the self-proclaimed City With Soul. If you’ve got a long weekend, from Friday afternoon to Sunday brunch, here are some suggestions.
Born in Jackson, Welty lived here most of her life and made Mississippi her subject. You can tour her home, which is arranged to look as it did when she was still writing in the 1980s. Then, the couches, coffee tables and chairs were stacked high with books, which guests had to move to find a seat. Guided tours are available Tuesday through Friday at set times (tickets, $5).
Next, take a lap around the Belhaven University campus, across the street from the Eudora Welty House, and breathe in the scent of magnolia, the state flower.Living history:
The lights are just one of the ornate building’s eccentricities, the stories of which provide a candid portrait of the state’s history. The Confederate battle emblem still occupies a corner of the state’s banner, and the face of the Choctaw Indian Theresa Whitecloud is at the top of the Senate rotunda. A ghostly portrait of Gov. James Vardaman in the first-floor hallway has him looking as pale as a vampire. You can take a self-guided tour, or come by earlier in the day for a free guided tour.
SATURDAYA venerable survivor:
When he was a field officer for the NAACP, Medgar Evers had a small office above the restaurant, and he used to hold meetings inside with Freedom Riders, one of whom was the owner’s mother. Although the street, bustling then, is now mostly silent, little seems to have changed inside the restaurant. A gleaming soda vending machine nods to the present, and after you taste the homemade hot sauce, you’ll be grateful for this allowance.
Evans started the store because he had a hard time finding books in pre-Amazon.com Jackson. Today he’s cultivated sections on everything Southern, from cooking to gardening, literature to religion. Lemuria also has a room of rare, signed books. Beholding Faulkner’s signature on a limited-edition print is humbling. Check out the website’s events section to find out if you’ll be in town during a book signing with one of your favorite writers.Fondren finds: The Help
Next explore the shops inside the mixed-use building Fondren Corner, like Blithe and Vine, which sells designer clothing and jewelry, or Swell-O-Phonic, offering snarky Jackson-themed T-shirts ($20) and skate gear. When you’ve finished shopping, sit on the patio at Babalu, a tapas restaurant, with a Cat 5 in your hand — similar to a mojito, but with Mississippi-made Cathead Vodka instead of rum.At the drive-in: Going underground: