By Saul Schwartz
On our way from Alabama to Arkansas, my wife Fern and I made a two-day trip to Jackson, Mississippi. This was our first time in the Mississippi. Although we were focused primarily on Civil Rights sites of the deep south, we enjoyed other activities in the country’s twentieth state, as well. Except for Jackson, most of our drive went through farmlands. Jackson is the state capitol and most populous city in the state with a population around 155,000 residents.
Through Airbnb, we stayed in a townhouse in historic Belhaven. Belhaven is one of Jackson’s oldest neighborhoods with great architectural diversity. Fern and I really enjoyed walking through the streets of this quiet, pleasant community. Unfortunately, there is currently extensive road work going which forced us to repeatedly reroute to our destination and we constantly had to look out for ruts in the roads.
Mississippi Petrified Forest (124 Forest Park Road, Flora):
Located about 25 minutes north from Jackson, the Mississippi Petrified Forest was declared a national landmark by the National Park Service in 1966. There are only a handful of petrified forests in the United States, and this is the only one in the Southeast. The forest is privately owned but the admission charge was modest ($7). Open year round except major holidays, the Forest provides an exceptional illustration of the nature history of this area.
The forest is believed to have formed about 36 million years ago when fir and maple logs washed down from an ancient river channel to the current site where they became petrified. The self-guided tour on an easy, shaded nature trail follows numbered markers from the free nature trail guide. All petrified logs on the trail are positioned as nature left them. Very few visitors were at the Forest during our time there, so the site was very peaceful
The Forest allows a unique glimpse into prehistoric Mississippi. The visitor center and gift shop include a small earth science museum with displays. Outside the Forest, there is a picnic area and pavilion. Mississippi Petrified Forest (mspetrifiedforest.com)
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (222 North Street, Jackson):
Open daily except Monday, the Museum is free to the public on Sundays. The Museum admission also includes the Mississippi Museum of History which we did not have time to visit. Enclosed onsite parking is free. The Museum is in the downtown area. A small café has both outside and indoor seating between the two museums. The audio guide available for a small fee ($5 with earplugs) really helped us navigate the exhibits to avoid information overload.
This exceptional civil rights Museum follows a chronological timeline and many interactive exhibits. The Museum flows in a circle around a central gallery where a light sculpture honor civil rights heroes. There are eight separate galleries. We spent about three hours at this spectacular Museum. Extensive information is provided on the Mississippi Civil Rights story, including the 1963 assignation of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers and the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (ms.gov)
State Capitol (400 High Street, Jackson):
Designated as a national historic landmark in 2016, the Capitol has been the seat of state government since 1903. The Beaux Arts style architecture is unusual for a state capitol building and the building has a European flavor. There is a small gift shop inside the building. Free street parking was easily found nearby. The outside grounds are very nice and include the Mississippi Liberty Bell and a large monument.
Steve, a volunteer, gave us a great one-hour tour. We were able to stop inside the chambers of the state Senate and House of Representatives and the original Supreme Court chambers. There are so many beautiful design elements, including stain glass windows, the main Rotunda with white Italian marble, a colorful dome, a grand interior staircase and loads of lights.
Steve provided us with loads of information. For example, he showed us the picture of John Grisham from the time that he served in the state House of Representatives. Free tours are offered Monday through Friday. Home | MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE (ms.gov)
Beth Israel (5315 Old Canton Road, Jackson):
Although it was closed when we drove over, Fern and I wanted to see Jackson’s only Jewish synagogue because of its Civil Rights significance. The Reform congregation was established in 1860. Under well-known Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, the congregation became active in the Civil Rights movement and racial justice. The Rabbi raised money for black churches bombed by the Klan.
In 1967, the Klan bombed the synagogue and the Rabbi’s home. Fortunately, no one was hurt in either incident. Today a sign in front of the modest building explains about the attacks.
Since we stayed in the Airbnb, we first food shopped at both the large Kroger’s and Whole Foods stores nearby. We did not eat in any restaurants in Jackson.
Although our trip to the Jackson area was brief, Fern and I enjoyed all our activities in the state. As we drove to and from and within Jackson, the conditions of the roads were subpar and are worth an extra measure of care.