“We’re going to Jackson; ain’t never comin’ back.” — Johnny and June Carter Cash
If you go to Jackson, beware. Like Johnny and June, you may not want to leave. Just to get you started on your Jackson jaunt, visit these top five things to do in Mississippi’s captivating capital. We’ll experience fascinating and sometimes controversial history, terrific food, a rich musical heritage, and a strange petrified forest, all in a long weekend. After you visit these places in the City of Soul, you’ll have to make a decision. Do I stay, or do I go? If you go, we know you’ll return.
Confront the Past at the Civil Rights Museum
Jackson’s airport bears Medgar Wiley Evers’ name. Evers was the NAACP’s field secretary in Jackson when Ku Klux Klan member Byron Beckwith assassinated him on June 21, 1963. So, if you fly into Jackson, you immediately confront the civil rights struggle.
Dive in deeper at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, but be warned. It’s not for the faint of heart. Some of the exhibits are nearly unbearable. But those who courageously continue, hope blossoms. Each gallery confronts various aspects of segregation and discrimination. The galleries end with horrible acts like Evers’ assassination, Emmett Till’s murder, and activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner’s killings.
(Learn more about Medgar and Myrlie Evers at their home, now a museum.)
These acts are so depressing, but relief is coming. Each gallery opens to a central rotunda. From the ceiling, a multi-colored sculpture hangs. Strips of fabric-covered blades swim between other strips, entangled like filmstrips of a world redeemed.
It’s named “This Little Light of Mine,” after the civil rights anthem that inspired it. A single light provides a faint glow, but each added light brings more power. So it is with the sculpture. As more visitors enter the gallery, the lights grow more powerful. As more people move below the artwork, its namesake song increases in power as more people listen. It’s a metaphor for progress.
Allow at least 2 hours for the civil rights museum. If you read all the information, you’ll need most of the day.
For an overview of Mississippi’s history, head next door to the Museum of Mississippi History. Allow at least an hour. A single ticket gets you into both museums.
Visit the Capitols
To honor the March Against Fear discussed at the civil rights museum, walk six minutes to the Mississippi State Capitol. I collect state capitol buildings, and Jackson has two of them. The current capitol building is a Beaux-Arts treasure. Look for 10 types of marble, original stained and leaded glass windows, and the portraits of Mississippi’s governors.
In the rotunda, look for Lady Justice and paintings that represent Mississippi history. On the lawn, you’ll find one of 55 Liberty Bell replicas and the second USS Mississippi figurehead.
I enjoyed the Old Capitol’s simple elegance.
Confront the past again in the House chamber, where ghostly white mannequins debate secession. A replica of the secession ordinance is on the first floor with other artifacts about the building. While the Union occupied Jackson, Gen. Ulysses Grant’s son Fred confiscated a lighted pipe (PDF) from the governor’s office. Or so the legend says. When the Union held Jackson, Mississippi’s legislature had to go elsewhere, including Meridian.
(We also loved Louisiana’s Old Capitol in Baton Rouge.)
Learn Where Food, Wood, and Fabric Come from at the MS AG & Forestry Museum
Because we live in a farming community, we are interested in agriculture. But everyone who likes to eat should be interested in ag. Inside the Mississippi Agricultural Museum, dioramas explain various crops. Exhibits talk about forestry products, cotton, catfish, and more. One room contains the National Agricultural Aviation Museum, including spray planes.
But the stars of the show are three meticulous model train layouts. If they were full-sized, they would span 200 miles. I couldn’t get enough of them.
Outside, stroll through Small Town, Mississippi. In the town, look back to the early days of the 20th century. The patent “medicines” are terrifying. Play checkers on the General Store’s porch while drinking an ice-cold Coke from a vintage vending machine. Buy vintage games, toys, and Mississippi food.
You’ll enjoy the relaxing gardens and the farmstead, too.
Where Trees Became Stones
When I think of petrified forests, I think of the national park in Arizona, not Mississippi. But Mississippi does have a petrified forest, and petrified wood is the official state stone. The South’s only petrified forest is 40 minutes northeast of Jackson.
Start your Mississippi Petrified Forest tour in the small but impressive gem museum. Be sure to visit the fluorescent room where the rocks glow in the dark. Before continuing to the nature trail, pick up one of their detailed guides.
The nature trail winds past the petrified logs. A massive flood knocked down 100-foot-tall trees and buried them. Over millennia, more soil fell onto the logs. Minerals entered the logs through groundwater and crystallized them. Eventually, water washed away the earth above them, exposing the now-petrified logs. When they reappeared above the ground, the overburden had broken some of the logs into pieces.
Walking the nature trail is easy and pleasant. The logs are marvelously well preserved. The Caveman’s Bench, a log with a large notch in it, is the perfect place to rest and grab a selfie.
The trail returns you to the gift shop’s porch, where a friendly, pettable kitty may await you. Before you leave, pick up a souvenir.
On your journey to and from the forest, play Electric Light Orchestra’s song “Turn to Stone” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Find Food and Fun in Fondren
Fondren is Jackson’s arts district. It’s full of boutiques, artworks, restaurants, and it hosts numerous events. Enjoy concerts at Duling Hall, a former 1928 elementary school.
We heard that Babalu was THE place to eat in Jackson, and we were not disappointed. Order guacamole first. They make it at your table, and it’s so fun to watch. We tried the lump crab cakes and the torta Cubano, chased with a mojito. Yum, yum! The only drawback? I kept hearing “Babalu” sung to the tune of Abba’s “Waterloo.”
The next day, we visited Brent’s Drugs, a classic throwback. Remember when the corner drugstore had a lunch counter and a soda fountain? Brent’s still does. Eat diner classics. Remember when the height of puppy love meant sharing a malt? It still does, and we enjoyed it.
In the evenings, savor classic cocktails at The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs. The Apothecary uses Cathead vodka in their cocktails. Visit Cathead Distillery for tastings. We recommend the honeysuckle vodka.
Pro tip: Visit Fondren on the first Thursday of the summer months for Fondren Live. Street performers are everywhere, and happy people flood the streets.
Stay in a Southern Mansion
If you stay in one of the Fairview Inn’s 18 guest rooms, you might not go anywhere else. With a spa and a lounge, you could laze around. We’re not recommending a cocoon existence, but you could.
Read more from Destination Expert Roxie Yonkey of Roxie on the Road at:
Kid-Friendly Attractions in Meridian