An Interview with Jack Myers

Jack Myers stood at the forefront of gay rights in Mississippi for over fifty years, running a series of gay bars and clubs in the capital city of Jackson. In this interview Myers talks about the many places he ran and shares his memories of others.

This all started back when I was in high school, we’re talking 1962-63. I finished radiology school, lived in Memphis for a while, lived in Eupora for a while, worked at the state hospital and at the VA. While I was at the VA they sent me to Duke for a year for in-service training, and was hoping for a position in Jackson, but they never got the position open, and I gave them 30 days to decide if they were going to give me more money, but they just kept putting it off, so I left after 30 days.

The first gay bar I can recall going to was called the Sportsman’s Lounge. You go down here and you turn on Mayes Street, Cowboy Malone’s used to be right there by the tracks, and there’s a little bitty building on the other side of the track and it was called the Sportsman’s Lounge. As a matter of fact, I had my 21st birthday there. I worked there when I was… it was in ’60-something. I was in X-ray school at UMC at the time. There have always been clubs in Jackson that weren’t openly gay but where gay people were welcome. I remember T.C. Schilling, one of the first people I met when I came out here, he used to own Jackson Commercial College, and he talks of some places that he used to go and one was down there on West Capitol Street, and there was a place off Robinson Road, you know where East Ford used to be? Where Robinson Road crosses Hwy. 80? If you leave here and go out Robinson Road you’ll cross Ellis Avenue, and right before you get to Hwy. 80 on the left facing Hwy. 80 used to be East Ford. You get behind the Ford place and you turn right, there’s a long road that goes through there, and he said he used to go to a place, there was a woman that had a bar out there. He said she’d take up for the gays in a minute, wouldn’t let anybody bother anybody. And there’s a lot of (gay) people I know used to go to the Walthall Hotel downtown. That was in the ‘60s.

I worked at the Sportsman’s Lounge, then he closed that bar and opened a place on McDowell Road where the police shooting range is now. That was all wooded then, it had a drive that went up to this big old house; it was called the Mansion. The guy lived upstairs, and one side of the downstairs was the bar. And if the sheriff’s department or the police came by and two guys and two girls were dancing, they’d just switch partners.

I know when I first came out, on Woodrow Wilson, where you take a left and get on Bailey Avenue, they took several old houses and made them into businesses and there was a place called Chez Pierre’s that was gay-friendly. The Glass Kitchen on Five Points was a popular restaurant. When I was in school at UMC from ’64-66 all of us who were in school would go to Delta Drive because they’d taken a lot of old houses up there and turned them into bars and they had bands, you took your own bottle, they only sold beer. There was the Pepper Mint Twist Lounge, the Hilltop A-Go-Go, the Sirloin Room; the Sirloin Room always had this great band called the Poppas.

I can’t remember the exact year I opened my first bar, but it was in the early ‘70s. It was on Delta Drive, now Martin Luther King Drive. And I moved from there downtown to the old Wagon Wheel which was on Capitol and Farish Streets upstairs. The entrance was on Farish. Then we bought the old Amite Theatre. It was behind Jack’s Saloon, it was on the corner of Amite and Roach; they were back-to-back. There was a Dr. Wade Windham who opened a bar there, a straight bar called the City Dump, I think it was. They took old cars and made benches and booths out of them. We sold them all for scraps. We completely remodeled it.

Bill’s Disco (black bar) was on the corner of Amite and Mill Streets there by the train station. It was called the Interchange when we had it. I’m thinking that when the old theatre burned we moved there and called it the Interchange and Bill Rimes ran it for us… well, the old theatre was called Bill’s Disco and it burned in 80-something. And then we moved on the corner across the street to that small building, opened it was the Interchange on Amite. They tore the old Amite Street Theatre down and built that monstrosity in the back; I can’t remember what it’s called (This is the catty-corner building on the corner of Roach and Amite.)

The dance bar on Capitol was Jack and Jill’s. It wasn’t the first bar; it was the first big dance bar. I don’t know if it was this article (in a local paper), but there was also one in the Washington Post that quoted me as saying that I had the first (gay) bar in Jackson, and no, I didn’t. There were bars years before I had one here. There was a girl bar where Amite Street gets to Capitol and crosses Capitol and turns into Robinson Road. I’m thinking that’s where it was. The road that goes by the train station, Amite, comes in (at an angle) there and crosses Capitol. There’s a little bar that sits there, there’s a parking lot out front. There’s been a bar there for years, but there was a girl that had it for a while. Her name was Polly Wilmer. In fact, I hadn’t seen her in years and Harry and I went by the Waffle House to get something to eat and this girl came by and said, “Are you Jack Myers?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well, this is Polly Wilmer,” she said. Oh, my God, I hadn’t seen her in years, and she’d gotten big, huge and she used to be a little tiny thing. We talked for a while; she used to have that bar, it was on Robinson Road, I think, used to be a Waffle House or something that sat right in here. It wasn’t Mississippi Street.

When I first opened Mae’s Cabaret on Delta Drive, now Martin Luther King, we got some hassle from the police. I was working at the Raincheck on Northside Drive; going west on Northside drive, you cross over the train tracks and as soon as you crossed over the tracks you took a left and there used to be a brickyard there. The only thing left there was an office; it was very small. It had a nice-sized room in the front, and a nice-sized room in the back, but to get to the back, you had to go through a hallway where the bathrooms were. And then you had the back room, where people could dance. When the police came in, the lady who ran the door would push a button under the desk and a light would flash and everybody would know to sit down. Because in order to have a dance license, you had to have an emergency exit off the dance floor, and there wasn’t a door back there. But one of the policemen said something to Doris about, “We know you have that light,” and she said, “I’m not worried about having a door back there, you know, trying to hem in a queen… (laughter).”

Doris wanted me and her to go into business, I worked with her for a long time, she wanted to open up a bigger place. I think I got a mortgage on my house; I had it paid for. So we opened up the place (Capitol and Farish?), and the police chief said, “The only thing I ask, you know, it’s fine having the show, but I want someone from vice and narcotics to come see the show.” And he did. It was Officer Fitzgerald. After that was over, he said, “Man, I don’t see anything wrong with these shows.” And I said, “Well, I did the right thing, paid the first people off when you told me not to have a show, and sent them back to Atlanta, but it’s not a strip show.” He said, “Well, I see that now, but somebody told us you were going to have a strip show.” That’s when we saw the chief and he said if the church could have their womanless wedding, then we could have a drag show.

 

When we had the old Amite Theatre downtown, we had a bunch in a pickup came by, they did not get out, just came by yelling stuff out to us. That’s the only incident we ever had like that. We always had off-duty city policemen working for us. Just a uniform; they could wear their uniforms. 95% of our protection was just them being at the bar. If you had an off-duty policeman working for you, you had to carry liability insurance and name the Jackson police department on that policy. That’s how you got to hire them. If you’re going to use a policeman, they want their ass covered. It wasn’t that expensive. It either paid a half a million or a million.

(In Jack’s bars) Momma and Daddy ran the door. And if Momma didn’t recognize you, the first thing she’d say was, “This is a gay bar, you’re welcome, and if you don’t like it or whatever, you can leave. If you cause trouble, we have a policeman here.” If it was someone (like a public figure) who might be looking around to see what was going on, she’d tell them not to be nervous, to come on in. Well-known people who were on the make’d go to New Orleans or somewhere like that where nobody could see them. People would come to me all the time and say, “I saw So-and-so (in this gay bar) in New Orleans.” They couldn’t come out here but could there.

Dan’s Summer Sausage

Hunters don’t make their own sausage for many reasons, but top of the list is probably because they don’t have the equipment or patience, and having a venison processor make summer sausage is expensive; a 5-pounder made locally will typically run $20, considerably more than an all-beef one would cost retail. But summer sausage requires no special equipment and little patience.

Prior to hitting the kitchen, sodium nitrate, summer sausage seasoning and casings need to be acquired. These items are not hard to find over the net, or they can be found locally at Rebel Butcher Supply in Pearl, Mississippi, costing about $8 for enough products to make 100 pounds of summer sausage. Sodium nitrate is controversial in online fora where everything is controversial, but it’s as likely to make you sick as the 4 cigars smoked over a lifetime of weddings/birth announcements are to give you lung cancer. If sodium nitrate is not used—in addition to a botulism concern—the finished product will look like over-cooked hamburger, slightly grey, with tones of brown. Sausage should be pink, and a sodium nitrate cure imparts this hue. Many online recipes eschew casings and nitrate, that’s fine, just call it dried meatloaf instead of sausage and don’t post pictures. I admit the seasoning is a compromise to someone who likes to source and mix, but if traditional summer sausage is desired, you’ll spin a lot of wheels and money to put together the seasoning. Rebel makes it up on site, and I am sure there are reliable online sources as well.

If using processed venison, be aware this method uses a 1:1 ratio of venison to pork butt. Check with the processor about this ratio; most will use 2:3 pork to venison if not instructed otherwise. This will work, but may want to increase the beef later if this is the case. Mix 4 lbs. of the venison/pork with 2 lbs. of 73% ground beef. Dissolve slightly less than a teaspoon of sodium nitrate and a tablespoon of salt (I use kosher salt that has been smoked) in a few tablespoons of water. Mix well with the meat, and pack tightly in a gallon zip top bag. I never would have thought to dissolve the cure in water, but it is the only way to distribute it thoroughly into the meat. This needs to sit up (cure) in the fridge for at least 3 days. I have been told by everyone I know that cures meat not to second guess the amount of cure—one grain too much and the batch is ruined—and this I believe. I’m also told by seasoned veterans that 5 days is optimal on the wait; but that wears on the patience (maybe this should be discussed during the safety meeting). At the end of the cure, put the meat in a cold bowl, and mix in the summer sausage seasoning. How much will depend on the way the seasoning is bought. I kept it simple as it was so cheap and bought enough to do 100 lbs. so the math was easy.

The casings are synthetic, so do not soak or salt them as you would with natural casings. Prick the casings with a needle; pricking allows moisture to escape as well as a little of that fat you don’t want causing a ring around the sausage. This method makes 3 sausages, in 3″ diameter casings; not much is lost so I guess they are close to 2 pounds apiece. Just ball the meat up and drop it in the casing. Scour the pantry and find a hot sauce, vinegar, or other similarly shaped bottle, that perfectly slides into the casing, and use it as a plunger to eradicate any gaps in the meat stuffing. It’s self-explanatory once the process is begun how to not let this happen, but if you had a proper safety meeting prior to beginning this process, it will be understood that it can’t be put into print without eliciting distracting juvenile laughter, so let’s move on to cooking.

The seasoning in this method is enough to deter me from smoking (other than the safety meeting). I add a little smoked salt to mine, and a lot of others use liquid smoke, but I can’t recommend smoking this sausage in the traditional sense–too many competing flavors. Place the links on a cooling rack, over a baking sheet at 200F for about 4 hours. I turn the sausage (to prevent flat spots) at the half way point, and also mop off the liquid that sweats out. Set the timer on the oven, and let it die to cool before taking out the sausage. Then put it in the fridge for a few days before slicing.

Devotedly,
Dan

Dan Vimes is a 1989 graduate of the Mississippi School of Math and Science.  He then entered Rensselaer Polytechic Institute in Troy, New York on a full academic scholarship, but was asked to leave after the first semester related to an on campus deer-hunting incident that involved a crossbow.  Currently residing in Pelahatchie in a 35′ Airstream, he raises guinea pigs for reptile breeders and grows hemp used in religious ceremonies.  You can contribute to Dan’s legal fund by emailing the administrator of this site.

Smith Park Redux

On August 21, a Notice of Intent was presented to Mississippi Landmarks Coordinator Katherine Anderson at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History. This notice was to inform her and the Historic Preservation division of MDAH that the owners of Smith Park, “the city of Jackson” intended to alter the park, which had been declared a Mississippi Landmark this past April 21. The notice reads, “In 1972 (sic) a concrete ‘creek’ was installed at Smith Park. This abandoned creek needs to be removed and filled in and sodded. It is dangerous at it is and non-functioning. This will generally double the size of the usable park, also smooth out berms and use dirt for filling in creek.” The date cited for initiation of this alteration is November 1.

Though the notice bears a stamped signature of Mayor Lumumba, the original was presented to Ms. Anderson by John Kane Ditto III. What this document proposes is nothing less than a razing of the park, essentially the first phase in the so-called renaissance that the “Friends of Smith Park” (of whom Ditto III is a charter member) have been planning, a makeover that would destroy the historical elements of the park (e.g. the Order of the Eastern Star Memorial, the iconic A-frame stage and the 1900 monument on the southwestern edge) and reduce its landscaping to a featureless, treeless plaza, nothing more than a nexus of concrete walks. The Notice of Intent states that the “creek”, which is actually a symbolic model of the Pearl River conceived by award-winning landscape designer Rick Griffin, has become “abandoned, ignored, a trash ‘receptacle’, dangerous and non-usable”. The fountains and pools are in fact functional, and they are no more “abandoned and ignored” or “dangerous and non-usable” than any number of many other features of downtown Jackson, Mississippi.

In affirming this document, Mayor Antar Lumumba–a self-confessed champion for the homeless–has abandoned his pledge to be mayor for “all the people” of Jackson and has thrown in his lot with the moneyed interests in the city, particularly those of Downtown Jackson Partners, a state-ordained fiefdom of Ben Allen, and the Dittos, who own the only available commercial property (200 North Congress) adjacent to the park. If this Notice of Intent is approved by the 9-member Mississippi Department of Archives & History board of trustees, which as it so happens is presided over by John Kane Ditto, Jr., then the last remaining greenspace in downtown Jackson will become a featureless “McPark”, without character, without history and without shade. If you, the citizens of Jackson, let your city government do landscaping for John Kane Ditto père et fils, then you’re a bigger bunch of suckers than I think you are.

 

All in a Name

In the introduction to her splendid Southern Hospitality Cookbook Jackson native Winifred Cheney states that a signature dish is “a tribute in the field of cookery”, intimating such dishes as oyster Rockefeller or Melba toast, but here Winifred misinforms. A signature dish is a recipe that identifies or is directly associated with an individual chef or a particular restaurant. For instance, one could say that blackened redfish is a signature dish of Paul Prudhomme’s, or shrimp and grits that of Bill Neale’s or that oysters Rockefeller—a variation of oysters Florentine—is a signature dish of Antoine’s as barbecued shrimp is of Pascale’s Manale.

Dishes named for people, either to honor them—as in the Rockefeller, purportedly because the dish is so rich—or because they were first made for them—as is the case with Melba toast, first made by opera aficionado Auguste Escoffier for his favorite diva Nellie Melba when she was indisposed to speed her recovery (it did, so eat Melba toast the next time you have those withering faints of artistic exhaustion), don’t have a specific term of reference. They’re just recipes named for people, there are dozens upon dozens of them and more are being created all the time. Winifred herself created two dishes for her neighbor and celebrated author Eudora Welty, apples Eudora and squash Eudora, each using what Winifred says are two of Welty’s favorite foods, tart apples and yellow squash.

Winifred is notorious for recipes that are rich, with expensive, hard-to-find ingredients and take a long time to make; the most frequent critiques of The Southern Hospitality Cookbook center around how “fussy” the recipes are, many calling for minute amounts of several various ingredients and elaborate stage-by-stage instructions on their preparation. Such is the case with her apples Eudora, which she describes as “tart apples cooked in a delicious syrup, drained and baked in a rich custard, then filled with an apricot rum filling and topped with a dollop of whipped cream” and if that doesn’t wear you out just reading it, then preparing it is going to make you bedridden.

Then she gives us squash Eudora, which while lacking in the elegance of her apples Eudora, is certainly less tedious. The principle ingredients are yellow crookneck squash and chicken livers. Now, chicken livers, like any type of liver, aren’t for everyone; they’re one of those things you either hate or love, rather like any incumbent president. Still, you can’t make a foie gras without them, and I’ve found that liver enthusiasts tend to be among the more culinarily sophisticated. I myself like squash Eudora, and it is substantial enough to serve either as an entrée or as a heavy buffet dish. What follows is not Winifred’s recipe to the letter (for instance, she uses “dried green onions” by which she might mean chives, but I substitute with fresh green onions), but it is faithful in spirit.

Wash but do not peel two pounds tender yellow squash. Slice thinly and parboil with a pat of butter until tender. Drain and season with black pepper and salt to taste. Drain and wash a half pound (8 oz.) livers, cut into halves and sauté in butter with Worcestershire. Set aside to cool, then drain and mix with squash, about a cup of chopped green onions a teaspoon curry powder, a teaspoon celery seed, one egg lightly beaten and a half cup grated Parmesan. Put mixture in a shallow casserole and bake at 350 until mixture is firm, dust top with more Parmesan and brown. Serve with fresh summer vegetables such as tomatoes or green beans. Winifred says that you can substitute a pound of lump crabmeat for the livers, and indeed you can if your pocketbook will allow.