“Thank God for Mississippi!” -All of Alabama
This quote is, like, an actual thing people in Alabama say about Mississippi. Of course, I’d never heard it. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about Mississippi because I never really thought about Mississippi. I knew I wanted to go though, because I finished reading The Help about a week before my trip and Jackson is only about three hours from Tuscaloosa.
So we went.
Crossing the state line into Mississippi, Philip and I were both really shocked. I was now aware of the quote above and Philip was always aware of the quote above, so when the pavement dramatically improved the second we were welcomed to Mississippi by a big blue sign we were both impressed. “Wow! Maybe everyone talks shit about Mississippi because they don’t want their state to be the worst.” “Yeah, maybe Mississippi is actually the best of all of them and they keep it a secret!”
It might be because we arrived in Mississippi just as nightfall was creeping into the city, but Mississippi made me sad. I found a very genius app for my phone that mapped out Jackson landmarks from The Help, which Philip and I used to navigate around the city for about an hour. If you’ve read The Help, seen the movie, or have much of an awareness of — and most importantly, interest in — the South through the Civil Rights Era, go to Jackson. To me, Jackson epitomizes the way the South has erased it’s own history. In fact, aside from chain restaurants and cars, it doesn’t seem like all that much has changed in Jackson.
We ate at Whataburger. After I ordered (+milkshake), the boy behind the counter asked if I wanted to add a cherry pie. “No thanks,” I said. He was bewildered, “What about some cookies?” When he was taking out the trash a few minutes later, I noticed that he’d outgrown his pants by at least 2 inches.
At night, Jackson is silent. There aren’t really stores downtown. The large “white” neighborhoods in downtown Jackson still stand, a little worse for wear. Jackson wears the bad economy like an old cast. The bad part of town is literally across the tracks, over a bridge, in fact, and one of the most heartbreaking places I’ve ever seen. Every other street is named after a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement, the Medger Evers memorial is a sidewalk attraction… and every other building has bars over the windows, the homes have bars over the windows, every house needs a fresh coat of paint, all the grass needs the attention of a lawn mower, the small businesses are all boarded up, and the only industry that seems to be alive at all is fast food.
These small observations — the lack of car dealerships, the models and years of the cars driving around us, the way every building looked like it could use a good scrubbing, how the only restaurants we could see had drive thrus — are what made Mississippi sad for me. And why what I learned in Mississippi was… I don’t know shit about the world.