This recipe comes from The Jackson Cookbook (1970), a wonderful addition to any kitchen library. The dish is a classic, old-school fricasee–rich, with a sublime aroma–is characteristic of the haute cuisine fashionable in hotels such as the King Edward in the middle of the 20th century.
Bread the chicken lightly, and slice the onions thickly so they won’t singe. Baste at least once, twice is better. I used boneless thighs skewered and lightly floured (no drenching beforehand) with salt and pepper, early yellow onions, and a mixture of fresh and dried thyme. Use a medium heat—don’t let the butter singe—and give the chicken a good browning. Wilted onions in the oil/butter before topping the chicken, drizzled with more of the mix, and baked in a medium (350) oven for about an hour.
Many Mississippians have become famous in the world of music as well as in the world at large: B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Rogers, not to mention Elvis Presley, but one Mississippian who is a titan in the sphere of 20th century music will likely never become known outside of a select group of musicians and musicologists for whom his works constitute a mind-boggling landmark in musical composition and theory.
In all honesty, as a somewhat tone-deaf wordsmith I can’t even begin to encompass the achievement of Milton Babbitt, which to the best of my understanding (another admittedly modest attribute) lies in that arcane area of human intellect where music and mathematics merge, a slope of Parnassus I’ll never attempt, much less scale. Perhaps my fellow laymen might be sufficiently impressed to know that among his many, many awards, Babbitt received a citation from the Pulitzer judges in 1982 “for his life’s work as a distinguished and seminal American composer”.
For all that his work was of the most esoteric nature and his accolades are of the highest order, Milton remained a down-to-earth sort of man, fond of baseball and beer, and like any good Southern boy (he claimed Mississippi as his home), ate grits every morning of his life when he could get them.
In a 2000 interview with Jason Otis of The Northside Sun, Babbitt said that his father moved to Jackson from Omaha where he was a mathematician at the University of Nebraska because C.W. Welty, Eudora’s father, made him an offer that according to Milton, “he couldn’t refuse. My being born in Philadelphia was the result of the fact that my mother was a Philadelphian and she would always go back to be with her parents when her children were born. So I and my two brothers were born in Philadelphia, but we all grew up in Jackson. My parents and a brother are buried there. Jackson was my home”
Two years later in an interview with American Public Media Babbitt said, “My early musical influences began in Jackson, Mississippi. Here I grew up, of course, and my first musical influence came from a violin teacher with whom I went to study at the age of 4. She gave me a violin, and as I practiced, I thought, this is exactly what I’d like to be doing in music—don’t ask me how or where—although I wasn’t really all that excited about the practicing. If you want an anecdote, I’ll tell you one. My teacher was a lovely and sophisticated woman who had studied with Leopold Auer.”
“I know you Yankees think that if you grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, you went around in bare feet, but we lived in a very cultivated crowd. Our public school was very sophisticated, and we were taught how to speak English in a very special way, because we were told that we were the last bastions of high culture. It was a little bit of that that brushed into everything. Anyway, my teacher, Ms. Hutchison, said one day to me, ‘Well, if you’re really interested in playing the violin, why don’t you see if this is the kind of music you might play?’ And she gave me the violin part of the Mendelsohn Violin Concerto, which I took home. Now this was a violin concerto that I had never heard performed; we didn’t have an orchestra, and remember records were very far and few between, so we didn’t have a record of the Mendelsohn Violin Concerto either. And I thought that if this was all that a violin concerto was, why couldn’t I write one of my own? So I started writing something I called ‘Violin Concerto for a Single Violin.’ I could’ve been very chic; I could’ve called it ‘Violin Concerto for Solo Violin,’ but I wasn’t that mature yet.”
“The truth of the matter is, after my experience with the violin concerto, I suddenly realized that the violin didn’t get you very far socially. Nobody really wanted you to play this damn solo violin. So I went to the local band director, the man who ran every band in town, the lovely, lovely Italian who didn’t speak very much English, but who had a very good musical background. Let me tell you, this is America, so I might as well tell you how he got there. He got to Jackson, Mississippi, from one of the smaller towns in Italy by virtue of a beautiful Mississippi girl who went to Italy to study voice—what else? That’s very American. She brought him back to Jackson where she thought he could be a big important person. Well, he was, relatively speaking. So I went to him, and I said I wanted to study the trumpet. And he said, ‘Why do you want to study the trumpet?’ I named all these jazz people of whom he had never heard who played trumpet or cornet. He said, ‘Look, you’re obviously interested in music. Play the clarinet because when you play band arrangements they have the violin parts, and you’ll learn a great deal about music, and you’ll learn a great deal more music that way.’”
“So I agreed and I took up the clarinet. That became my primary instrument. I played the clarinet and eventually saxophone. All throughout high school I played in every kind of band, everything from an imitation Guy Lombardo to an imitation Ben Pollock, which means, you know, the range from what would then be called popular music to jazz. My early influences, however, I must tell you, were largely in popular music—all kinds of popular music. And you’ll be amused to know that while I was in Jackson, Mississippi I never heard a note of country music. The country people are out there, but we’re not country people. We didn’t hear any country music. We never heard any blues either, though the blues virtually originated in Jackson, but that was not us. It didn’t have anything to do with race—by the way, that’s a great mistake—it had to do with education. We went to Davis School, which, well, you want me to tell you an anecdote about that? I’ll tell you because it involved somebody else who came from Jackson, Eudora Welty, with whom I grew up. Her father was the president of the insurance company of which my father was the actuary and vice president, so we literally grew up together. Eudora Welty went to the same public grammar school that I did, the Davis School, and you can guess which Davis that was: Jefferson Davis, of course. So anyhow, the story was that [Eudora] would go down to the ladies room where the students were in their little stalls, and our English teacher, Ms. Granbury, would come down there, and if she heard a single grammatical mistake in the conversation among these stalls, she would immediately tell them, ‘Go to my office when you have done what you have to do here.’ They would be reprimanded and disciplined.”
“So much of what we are is what we were,” Babbitt told Otis. “I spent my time in Jackson hearing and playing music that I would not have heard if I had grown up anywhere else. Jazz musicians from New Orleans would come up from the river and I often used to play with them on Saturday nights. Our music teacher didn’t play records for us because there weren’t any records to play. We learned to read music and to play music and to listen to music. It was extraordinary. It’s not the kind of musical education I would have gotten in New York, but then I was exposed to a great deal of jazz and popular music that I might not have been exposed to elsewhere.”
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. 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.
What fire of mind or heart feeds the human impulse to mold or mark the fabric and surfaces of the world into a semblance of imagined beauty? We cannot say; it is an indefinable spark, we can but marvel of its being.
These images were captured in 2004, and the work itself couldn’t have been very much over perhaps two years old. As to who painted them, I have no clue. Some seem to be by the same hand or set of hands, others don’t. And while you may find them outlandishly amateurish or puerile, when I first saw them on a lonely New Year’s morning, they brought to life that sad, lonely street.
Charlotte Capers, long-time director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History was—in stark contrast to her current successor—a woman of considerable integrity, intelligence, and wit. This is an excerpt from a speech given before the Mississippi Historical Society in March 1972.
After its creation in 1902, the Department remained in the basement of the New Capitol until 1940, when more commodious quarters, but not much more, were provided in the War Memorial Building. Since Dr. Rowland’s day, the Department has acted as a clearing-house historical agency, and the Museum function was included in this. However, when the Department moved into the War Memorial Building, the collection housed in the New Capitol was, of necessity, abandoned. Certainly, there was no space in the north wing of the new building for a full-fledged museum. Thus, we left in the basement of the New Capitol, a mysterious and miscellaneous collection including an Egyptian mummy, the hip-bone of a North Dakota dinosaur, a pair of size 20 shoes worn by an Alabama Negro in World War I, and a toy snake from the Philippines.
The star of this collection was the mummy, who had enchanted visitors to Jackson ever since she had been acquired as lagniappe in a collection of Indian artifacts many years ago. A real mummy mystique had developed, and grandfathers brought their toddling grandchildren in to see the mummy that they had seen as boys. When the board of trustees quite properly adopted in the Old Capitol Restoration, the collection was limited to items associated with Mississippi history. The mummy, an Egyptian, was plainly out of place. It fell my lot to separate the little Egyptian, known variously to her public as ‘The Little Gypsy Lady,” or occasionally as ”The Dummy,” from her admirers. I knew that such a move was to court disaster, for my generation, too, had visited the mummy on our way to Central High School, and we considered her as much a part of our American heritage as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, or Theodore G. Bilbo.
But, in what may have been my finest hour, I saw my duty and I did it. And I firmly withdrew ”The Little Gypsy Lady” whose connection with Mississippi history was tenuous at best, from the Museum exhibits. She was relegated to a collection file room in the old Capitol to be seen only on demand by her most avid admirers. Her admirers all turned out to be avid, and they continued to demand her until the day when a staff member, annoyed by constant calls for our most popular tenant, stated in a speech that he would like to bury the mummy.
That blew it. The wire services picked up the story and the shot went round the world. The public from all over arose to defend “The Little Gypsy Lady.” We got insulting mail and insulting telephone calls; and one concerned gentle man wrote from Germany about “das mumi,” calling us bigots for some reason. Offers of adoption for the mummy flowed in. An undertaker from Ohio wanted “‘The Little Gypsy Lady” as an example of his art. An archaeologist said that when he examined her he found her to be a young female offered her a home provided that her esophagus came with her (translate: sarcophagus).
The strife went on, I held my ground, the story of Mississippi, as you will see, is told in thirty-three permanent exhibits in this Old Capitol Museum, and the small foreigner slept on in a collection file room. Way back in Dr. Rowland’s day he had a seal designed for the Department with the motto ‘Veritas,” or “Truth.” Seldom in our lifetime, however, are we justified for taking an unpopular stand on the side of the truth. The mummy proved to be a heartening exception. In the 1960s a young medical student at the University of Mississippi asked for permission to x-ray the mummy. In the interest of truth, permission was granted. The startling results of this scientific investigation were reported in The Mississippi History Newsletter as follows:
“Our mummy, who has been the star of our museum for as long as we can remember, was exposed as a fake when Gentry Yeatman, an enterprising Ole Miss medical student x-rayed the little Egyptian princess and found her heart was full of nails. Further, she had a German language newspaper in her left foot, and her right arm yielded a copy of TheMilwaukee Journal, 1898. Again we note that things are not always what they seem, and the mummy is a dummy after all.”
(The mummy received a proper entombment in the Old Capitol, and comes on display every Halloween.)
During a segment of “Iron Chef”, when one critic told Cat Cora that he didn’t care for her dish, she unhesitatingly asked, “Then why did you eat it all?”
Cat Cora doesn’t pull any punches. Why she invoked Barbara Gordon’s 1979 memoir in this 2015 biography is perplexing; Cora has her own story, which she tells simply and honestly, the story of an orphan from Greenville who grew up in a loving, understanding home in Jackson where food took center stage and become a groundbreaking culinary superstar. Such a Horatio Alger-esque narrative, often provides occasion for self-indulgent whining, but Cat is smart, funny, and resilient. She rolls with setbacks, admits mistakes, and does what she needs to move on.
The details of her culinary education and career as well as behind-the-scenes at “Iron Chef” provide a lot of interest for foodies as well as fans, who will also enjoy reading her honest–sometimes painfully so–account of her own personal journey. In a work of such candor, I expected details that perhaps only I would miss, like what’s the dyke bar near the New Capitol. I particularly enjoyed reading about Jackson’s wonderful Greek community.
Mississippians, Cat is our daughter, our sister, let us embrace and celebrate her. But no matter where you’re from, you’ll like this fun, informative read.
Mississippi is famous as home to many of the most celebrated musical artists of the last century, but few know that Mississippi—and more specifically Jackson—was home to at least three renowned recording companies: Trumpet, Ace and Malaco Records. The Trumpet and Ace labels have long since passed into legend, but Malaco Records, founded by Tommy Couch, Mitchell Malouf, and Gerald “Wolf” Stephenson, is still making music on Northside Drive in Jackson.
“The basic story for Malaco was that we loved R&B music,” Wolf said. “Tommy is from the Muscle Shoals area, and he grew up with all those guys who became big in the recording industry there. When he came to Ole Miss, he started booking bands for the fraternity parties to make extra money. He graduated the semester ahead of me, moved to Jackson and talked his brother-in-law Mitch Malouf into continuing the booking agency. The name Campus Attractions was what he had used, but someone else was using that name, so he and Mitch tossed various names around until his mother-in-law suggested they combine the two names Malouf and Couch into Malaco.”
“I moved to Jackson and we continued our friendship,” Wolf said. “Tommy wanted to open a recording studio, so it started out here in 1967. The first success that we had was with Groove Me by King Floyd out of New Orleans in 1970. The next thing we had was Misty Blue with Dorothy Moore in 1976. In the early 80s, we were the beneficiary of a big downturn in the music business; Stax went out of business, Columbia Records pared back their artist roster,” Wolf said. “TK Distributors in Miami, who distributed our products, went out of business and all of a sudden we had to become an independent record company to get our records out. At the same time, lots of other labels cut back their roster. The artists who were doing blues and R&B didn’t have anywhere else to go, so they showed up here. We could record a record, get it manufactured and get it out, and they could call up anytime day or night. We were a small, close-knit group, so it worked.”
“Z.Z. Hill was our first big hit with Down Home Blues (1982). That was probably the biggest blues/soul album that had ever been released to that date, and here we were, a little bitty company and it cost us $8,000 to do the whole project. That song just exploded. That was like a magnet to all those other folks who were out there. His success brought Johnnie Taylor, Little Milton, Latimore (stage name of Benny Latimore), Bobby “Blue” Bland, Tyrone Davis and Denise LaSalle. We were at the right place when everybody else was cutting back.”
“We started with gospel in 1975,” Wolf said. “The Jackson Southernaires were a very hot group nationally. The thing about gospel groups back then and now, too, is that they had to be able to take some of their records when they went out on the road to sell them off the stage. And for the Southernaires, being with ABC Records, headquartered at that time in LA, it was hard for them to get the records on a timely basis. Again, they got caught in the cut-backs, too, and we were close by, they showed up, and that put us on the road to being successful in gospel music for a number of years.” But a dramatic downturn followed. “I never expected the record industry to get this bad,” Wolf said. “Piracy and counterfeiting have destroyed the industry. The computer has been a double-edged sword; we’re able to do so many things we couldn’t do before, but it also allows people to devastate your intellectual property rights.”
Burton Doss, Director of Information Technology at Malaco, said, “We had a bad time with the bootleggers; not so much the downloaders, who have hurt us some, but the bootleggers, in our industry, are really hurting us, but Malaco is adapting. Instead of fighting change, we have to embrace it by reaching out with new ventures, anything we can possibly do to reach our audience. We are signing a lot of P&D (pressing and distribution) deals in which the artists themselves do all the marketing and promotion, and we manufacture the product and place it in the major chains. A lot of the larger record labels won’t sign these artists who might only sell 250,000 to 500,000 units; well, we’ll have a party if we sell that much. So we’re signing these P&D deals in urban music,” Burton said. “We also have a lot of gospel artists who are unhappy with their labels who are coming to us to manufacture their product and get it out for them.”
“We have just signed a deal with Heavy D, from Heavy D & the Boyz, who was a big rapper in the 80s and 90s. He has a new album out called Vibes, a reggae album that was nominated for a Grammy Award this year. Lionel Ridenour, who has come to us from Arista Records, knew Heavy D and has a lot of good connections in the music industry. He called up Heavy D, who told him he wasn’t happy where he was at and wanted to look into something else, so Lionel said why don’t you come over to Malaco? We’ve also signed this guy named Ludy out of St. Louis, a rapper in the 90s. And we’ve signed a deal with B-Hamp. He’s got this song called Do the Ricky Bobby which was written up by Entertainment Weekly. When you think of Malaco, you think of the Mississippi Mass Choir, Johnny Taylor, Bobby Bland, so this is different, it’s new territory for us, but we’re excited.”
“We have the largest gospel music catalogue in the world, very good traditional gospel and new artists as well,” Burton said. “We have the Mississippi Mass Choir, Dorothy Norwood, the Georgia Mass Choir, a lot of quartets; we just did an album on the Soul Stirrers, who back in the day were the Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke. Our catalogue business, meaning our repertoire of copyrighted songs, is very strong. We license a lot of songs to movies and other venues. We continue to grow the new business into new avenues. One avenue that we’ve started is that we’ve started an online radio station. Chances are, if you were to turn on the radio, you’re not going to hear blues or Southern soul. So we’ve started our own station, which is 24 hours a day, world-wide, southernsoulradio.com. You can hear the song, download it from iTunes and click to buy the album from our Malaco website. We want to make Malaco the one-stop shop when you think of blues, gospel or Southern soul.”
These guys across from the train station were listening to MLK’s last speech, the part that mentions the parable of the Good Samaritan. As I sat on a bench, King’s voice ringing in my ears, a man sat next to me. “Haven’t had a job in seven years,” he said. “My whole family is gone now; momma, daddy, sister and brother. I just keep going. I don’t know why, but I do.” I gave him one of my two dollars, went and sat under the rail bridge and cried my eyes out. I don’t know why, but I did.
“South Jackson as a place begins at 2155 Terry Road, the address of the city’s oldest home. It is the last remaining plantation house in the area. Today, an anomaly, a handsome Greek revival structure with Doric columns standing near Interstate 20’s cloverleaf, commercial enterprises and the decay of the Highway 80 Corridor.”
And so begins One Direction Home: A History of South Jackson, by Dr. Vincent Venturini and former city commissioner Doug Shanks. Shanks recounts that the work began with a question: Were his fond memories of growing up in south Jackson just nostalgia, or was south Jackson truly a special place? The answer is, of course, yes and yes. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, particularly that of the sort leading to such a wonderful work as this. At once scholarly and informal, poignant and piercing, One Direction Home entertains and informs on many levels.
U.S. Highway 51 splits in Jackson, ending on South State Street to the east, and starting again on Terry Road some two miles to the west. When Terry Road emerges from the cloverleaf south of Highway 81, atop a broad ridge sits the Carmelite monastery housed in the aforementioned Greek revival home formerly owned by the Myrant family. The Myrant/Lester home is a focus for an early history of south Jackson, which is integral to that of the city and of Hinds County. Terry Road (Hwy. 51) provides an axis for the geography of the area, which Venturini describes as, “somewhat porous, but we largely see south Jackson as beginning at Highway 80 and extending south to Lake Catherine and west to Mississippi Highway 18.”
“The eastern boundary is the Pearl River,” he added. We are also including Provine High School from its beginning until 1968. Although Wingfield High School opened in 1966 for students in the city’s southern section, those already enrolled in Provine were allowed to finish there. As pointed out in Doug’s Preface, Shoney’s is included as a south Jackson institution given the role it played in the lives of our contemporaries.”
And the time? While an early history is presented, Shanks claims, “What follows in the coming pages is a largely nostalgic visit to south Jackson as it existed between 1945 and 1975.” All Jacksonians will recall landmarks such as the Alamo Plaza, the “Chuc-Wagun”, the Frost Top, the Green Derby, Leavell Woods Park, Cook Center, Mart 51 and the Zodiac. They will also recall, among the many prominent south Jacksonians mentioned, Farmer Jim Neal of WSLI, Woodie Assaf of WLBT, “Skipper” Dick Miller of WJTV, Andrew Mattiache, and Walter Bivins.”
“The neighborhoods, the churches, the schools, the streets, parks, and other elements that compose a city are part of this wonderful weave,” he adds.
The book has scores of wonderful photographs, and has a reassuringly extensive and detailed bibliography with notes. One thing, though; Shanks and Venturini spend an inordinate time mentioning the proletarian reputation of south Jackson. This apologia is distracting, superfluous, and, most importantly, unnecessary. Let’s bear in mind that this is not Natchez, nor Vicksburg, but Jackson, Mississippi, a city no less a cosmopolitan than Audubon described in 1823 as “a mean place.” Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you one Jackson neighborhood is “better” than another, but many an outsider has found the entire city déclassé if not to say destitute.
While no doubt many former and current south Jacksonians will find flaws and omissions (that assuredly only they could detect) all can celebrate this loving biography of a time, a place, a people, a portal in time to a backyard barbecue, a high school football game, and a corner soda fountain.