The Man That Painted Banner Red

It was in the spring of the year in the dear long ago. There had been a long dry spell and the farmers were well up with their work, but, complaining as to the weather quite a number were gathered in town. A dark heavy cloud was seen rising in the west and about noon a nice refreshing shower fell to bless and benefit these sons of toil.

In the afternoon the village of Banner was filled with happy farmers. The postmaster, Esq. Brower, and myself were sitting in the post office looking at the throng around Frank Brantley’s grocery. The dingy old gallon pot was sitting on a stump in front of the grocery, well filled with red liquor and surrounded by a happy crowd, all in a merry mood and still partaking rather freely.

All at once a young man stepped into the post office and asked if there was any mail for John Martin. He was rather small, with light hair and a few strangling red hairs on his upper lip and chin. Brower, after a careful look, told him there was no mail for John Martin. He said then, “I am a stranger here. This is the first time I was ever in Banner. I am Fighting John Martin from Butta Hatchie creek; I am a fighter from the east. I have often heard of Banner and I have come over to-day to clean her up and paint Banner red. I understand you have some fighters here and I would like to meet them. I tell you I am a fighter.”

He pulled from his ponderous pocket an old-style, iron-barrel pistol, with tube and hammer on the top and said, “You see this. I am going to have some fun this evening. The first man that bristles up to me, I’m going to down him.”

He walked nimbly across the muddy street to the stump and gallon pot, introduced himself to the crowd and took a drink of the liquor. A dispute between the Van Winkles and the Hardins soon resulted in a general fight. The men were all in their shirt sleeves and most of the young men and boys were barefooted. The men engaged in the fighting were old Carter Van Winkle who had a small lumber stick in his hand and he knocking the Hardins right and left, when he was modestly confronted by John Martin who asked, “Who are you and which side are you fighting? I am Fighting John Martin from Butta Hatchie. Did you ever see me turn loose in Banner? If not, look out!”

He thrust his old pistol into Van Winkle’s face and pulled the trigger, but the pistol snapped and Van Winkle struck him over the head with his stick and brought him to his knees. Martin galloped across the muddy street on his all-fours with Van Winkle striking him with the lumber stick first on the right and then on the left side as he crawled across with his pistol in one hand and his hat in the other.

Just as he crossed the street Van Winkle left him and returned to the general fight. Martin dragged himself into the post office all covered with blood, handed his pistol and hat to Brower and called for a doctor. The little Banner doctor examined him and found that he had received a downward lick on the side of his head that pealed the scalp his forehead back beyond his ear.

“Fix it quick doctor I want to get away from here.” The doctor took two or stitches, brought the edges of the wound up together, tied a few bands across. Brower handed him his hat and pistol; remarking as he did so, “This is hell turned loose in Banner, is it not?”

“No,” said the little doctor, “he is the man that painted Banner red.”

“Let me out of here,” said Martin and he slipped out, took through the woods to the south of Banner and that was the last seen of Martin, the Fighter from Butta Hatchie that painted Banner red.

(Signed, The Rambler, The Calhoun Monitor, Pittsboro, MS, Aug. 18, 1904)

 

A History of Belhaven Heights : Part 1

The Setting

Today’s Belhaven Heights Historical District is one of Jackson’s most architecturally unique neighborhoods.  Situated on one of Jackson’s highest hills, it is known for its diverse architecture, terraced lawns and tree canopied avenues.

Map 3

Through the 1940’s and 50’s, the Belhaven Heights neighborhood grew eastward to its logical boundaries (Map 3). These boundaries have changed somewhat over the years but today are generally considered to be Fortification Street on the north, the old GM&O Railroad bed near Greymont Ave. on the east, Spengler Street on the south and North Street on the west. The actual neighborhood parameters are Fortification to High Street and State Street to I-55.

Map 1

Belhaven Heights Historic District was initially listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 28, 1983. A revision and amendment was put in place in 1998. The historic district is located near the downtown core of Mississippi’s capital city. The neighborhood’s first historic district (1983) is shown on Map 1. This diagram shows residences along and on both sides of Morningside and North Jefferson Streets and Bellevue Place with Madison Street and Terrace Court also included in the district.

Map 2

The 1998 amended district, shown in Map 2, is generally bounded by Fortification Street on the north, southward along Quinn, and west to Monroe where it drops south to Harding and along the western edge of Belhaven Heights Park. The boundary line continues to just south of Spengler and west to Jefferson, then north and west to North Street, then back to Fortification.

In 1899, the Jackson Daily News described Belhaven College and its surroundings as “remarkably picturesque and attractive…located thus in the most beautiful spot in the city, surrounded by elegant residences, within easy reach of every important point in Jackson, yet enjoying the seclusion of a suburban position.”

Belhaven College c. 1900

Belhaven Heights consisted of scattered parcels prior to the 20th century but the first subdivision (part 1) was platted March 29, 1905, by the Belhaven Heights Company, (A.J. Hackett, president). This was largely the area south of Fortification with a small part extending north of Fortification to Persimmon Street and covering the area east of Monroe and west of Greymont Ave.

Few structures remained in Jackson following the burning of the city during the Civil War. One of these is the Oaks, located at 823 N. Jefferson Street (part of Belhaven Heights),  a Greek revival cottage built in 1853 by former Jackson Mayor James H. Boyd (1809-77). Today it is a museum and the property of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Mississippi. Boyd, a Kentucky native, came to Jackson in the 1830’s, was mayor of Jackson for four terms and served at least six terms as alderman including the years when the American Civil War raged through the city.

Much of the land area that is now Belhaven Heights was part of the vast Edwin Moody Estate. The family land and residence was located in the area bounded by Morningside, Madison, Boyd and N. Jefferson Streets. In 1875, there was only one other residence in the Heights area.  This entire block of property was sold to Col. James Hamilton for his residence  he named Belhaven for his Scottish ancestral home. Col. Hamilton sold his home to Dr. Louis Fitzhugh in 1894 for the establishment of the first Belhaven College which is described in detail in the history of Belhaven. Other early land owners and developers in Belhaven Heights were J.B. Harris, J.C. Smith, W.J. Brown, Miller & Greaves, A.J. Hackett, Gilbert Hemmingway and Edward W. Crane.

As Jackson grew and new streets added, some of the thoroughfares in Belhaven Heights acquired new names. According to the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map, the 900 block east of Boyd Street became Bellevue (for the college). It achieved notoriety later as Judges Hill. Oldham Street became Harding, Rhodes Street became Rio, Greymont Avenue south of Fortification was known as East Street and the 1100 block of Riverview was Cherokee Street. George Street, named for U.S Senator James Zachariah George, was formerly known as Penitentiary Street as it ran to the north of the state penitentiary which occupied the land where Mississippi’s New Capital Building stands today after its construction in 1903.

Throughout the years Belhaven Heights has remained a largely residential area with its only early commercial establishment being the old Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad beanery at the intersection of Spengler and Madison streets. More on this structure, its colorful history and the railroad itself will be discussed in a later section.

(Information in this section is taken primarily from Living Places by the Gombach Group, Morrisville, PA (1997-2014) and the application for inclusion on the National Park Service Historical Register of Historic Places (2011).Thanks go to Jim Woodrick at the MDAH for assistance with the maps and narrative information from the Belhaven Heights application for listing on the Historical Register.)

The Residences

Homes in Belhaven Heights grew eastward from North State Street where early prominent Jackson citizens built their residences after the Civil War. Sadly, far too many have succumbed to the wrecking ball of progress. In the early 20th century young professionals built several blocks east of State on North Street and names in city directories of the time will be familiar to students of Jackson history. Home construction was sporadic and lots were large with few houses situated on a given block. These blocks filled in later as the neighborhood population increased.

The Oaks (photo by Cecile Wardlaw)

The Oaks at 823 N. Jefferson Street, former home of Jackson Mayor James H. Boyd, is the oldest residence in Belhaven Heights (1853) and one of the few structures that survived the Civil War. It is also the best known for several historic reasons one of which we will soon see. There was another nearby area that is renowned as well. This is the 900 block of Bellevue Place known throughout its lifetime as Judges Hill. The 800 block of N. Jefferson is also considered by some as part of this nomenclature.

Judges Hill was the home of six judges and one attorney in the early 1900’s. Most of these houses still exist. The primary “hill” peaks at the intersection of Bellevue and Madison streets where the observer looking eastward can see well into Rankin County. You can stand a few feet higher by walking up the incline of Terrace Court just to the west of Madison Street.

Lyell House

Bellevue Place judges, their street address and year their homes were built were: Fifth District Court Judge Garland Lyell, 935, (1910); State Supreme Court justice  E.O. Sykes, 942, (1912); State High Court Judge Clayton D. Potter, 943 (1916); and  Judge J.B. Holder, 948 (?). Jefferson Street judges were Circuit Judge Wylie Potter, 804 (1924);

Sykes House

and State Supreme Court Justice Sydney Smith, 855 (1923-24). Attorney J.A. Gordon resided at 857 N. Jefferson.  All structures are still standing except at 948 Bellevue and 857 N. Jefferson. These are now apartment complexes.

Lewis-Mack House

Other homes of interest in the district are the Lewis-Mack house at 901 N. Jefferson (ca. 1923-24) and the one story cottage at 909 Jefferson (ca. 1912),  which is listed in the 1985 Field Guide to American Houses (p. 457) as a prime example of an American Craftsman home. Persons interested in following the trail of property owners in the Heights from 1833 to 1905 are encouraged to consult the Abstract of Title to Belhaven Heights on file in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Chyrl Grubbs, former resident of the Sykes House was interviewed by Jack Bertham for his newspaper article. “You can ride up and down these small streets and know that important decisions were made in these houses,” she told the reporter. While not as large or distinct as the Belhaven area to the north, “the district is significant for the homeowners’ determination to remain close to downtown and their concentrated effort to stand against encroaching commercialization.” Grubbs points out that the Sykes residence was once literally fit for a queen to be. “In 1943, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands stayed at the house while visiting the city to inspect the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School stationed at the Jackson Army Air Base.”

While upkeep of residences over 100 years old is a challenge there is much restoration taking place and a prime example of this will be discussed in a future installment of this history.

The Boyd Home (Oaks) is more than just a historic dwelling and museum. It has the distinction of hosting the nation’s first Memorial Day concept in April of 1865. An accounting of this event was published in neighbor Jesse Yancy’s blog Mississippi Sideboard on April 23, 2015 and features an article authored by Greenwood Cemetery Association President Cecile Wardlaw based on research by local historian  Peter Miazza. It is presented here in its entirety.

The First Real Memorial Day

“Widely acknowledged as the precursor of Memorial Day, widespread observance of a Declaration Day began shortly after the hostilities in the Civil War, when citizens began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers.

“Many cities claim to be the home of this observance, including Waterloo, NY, Boalsburg, PA, Carbondale, IL, Columbus, GA, and much closer to home, Columbus, Mississippi. In their 2014 book, the Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday, Dr. Richard Gardiner and Daniel Bellware state that according to the Veteran’s Administration, at least 25 cities across America claimed to have originated the Memorial Day holiday. While numerous historians feel that the true history may never be known, this book rejects that claim and explores the factual history of the holiday and shows that most of the better-known stories are mere myths and local legends; that being said, Jackson, Mississippi can lay verifiable proof that the first Declaration Day was held on April 26, 1865 in the historic Greenwood Cemetery in downtown Jackson..

“As the story goes, citizens of the Confederacy were well aware of the strategic importance of Appomattox; those in Jackson, Mississippi were already shaken by the fall of Richmond on April 4, 1865, and the news of Grant’s victory reached Governor Charles Clark some days later. In her diary his daughter recalled the telegram being passed around: ‘yes, it was all over. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox! Like a thunderbolt it fell on all of us. We were stunned. I remember feeling astonishment that we were not all dead’.

“Many if not most were already resigned to defeat and were shocked by the assassination of Lincoln less than a week later, so it was a somber group that assembled on Tuesday evening, April 25 at the Oaks, home of former Jackson Mayor James Boyd on North Jefferson Street. Just before midnight two couriers arrived with the news that Confederate Lieutenant General Richard Taylor and Union Major General E.R.S. Canby had agreed to a truce in Meridian, darkening the mood. Among them was Sue Langdon Adams, a Missouri native and niece of Mississippi’s Senator Robert Adams. A nurse, Sue had infiltrated Union lines bringing medical supplies back to Confederate forces and informing Confederate authorities of Union troop deployments.

“When the news of the truce came, Sue was reading Plutarch’s Lives., where it’s mentioned that the graves of fallen soldiers are adorned with wreathes of laurel. Fearing that the reoccupation of Jackson was imminent, she tore out a blank page and penned an appeal to the women of Jackson to gather the next day at the city cemetery at two in the afternoon and adorn the graves of fallen soldier with flowers. One of the young couriers took the note and raced to the office of the newspaper, Mississippians, just in time for it to be printed in the next morning’s edition.

“The next day, a large group of citizens gathered in the cemetery and soon nearly every soldier’s grave was covered with floral designs of every kind. Troops led by Colonel McFarland marched through the cemetery as the band played Handel’s ‘Dead March’ from Saul. As Adams moved through the rows of graves, she saw that some were unadorned and asked why there were no flowers on them. Told they were graves of Union soldiers, she replied, ‘I will garland them with my pink roses for the mothers and sisters who sobbed over them as they marched away. Maybe they fell in the riven flags in the battle of West Jackson’.

“Adams moved to California and married a Judge Vaughan. She died in Arlington, Virginia in 1911 and is buried in the Mount Olivet United Methodist Cemetery there. Her memorial efforts were acknowledged in an inscription on the monument which was unveiled on the Jackson Capital Green in 1891:

‘It reeks not where their bodies lie,
By bloody hillside, plain or river,
Their names are bright on Fame’s proud sky,
Their deeds of valor live forever.’”

Now you know the rest of the story and the story began in Belhaven Heights.

Before leaving our visit with Peter Miazza we should take a look at one of the prominent family names of old Belhaven Heights. These were the Spengler’s who lived along the east side of the 600 block of N. Jefferson. Only one house remains, 646, the former home of Hubert Spengler, Sr.

Hubert Spengler was Peter’s paternal great-grandfather. He operated several businesses but was best known for the office complex still standing at the northwest corner of State and Capitol Streets known as “Spengler’s Corner”. A plaque on the building reads, “Spengler’s Corner: Oldest Jackson building in continuous commercial use, this was the cornerstone of the group of structures along Capitol and State Streets now known collectively as Spengler’s Corner Historic District. A commercial and entertainment center in the 19th century, it was the site of Spengler’s Hotel, a favorite meeting place of state legislators. Erected c. 1842, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.”  According to Peter Miazza, the hotel burned about 1906.

There was only one commercial development in Belhaven Heights through its early years and that was the area which abutted the GM&O Railroad on the eastern boundary.  This was no ordinary string of warehouses and outbuildings. It had a roundhouse,  rail shops and a hotel with a ghost who we will meet in the next segment.

(Sources for this material are Justice Comes to Judges Hill, Jack Bertram, Clarion-Ledger, September 7, 2001, pp 1E, 3E (Judges Hill); Declaration Day from Voices Heard from the Grave (publication pending), Peter Miazza, local author and historian and Greenwood Cemetery Board President Cecile Wardlaw.)

(Copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, March 2018)

Dahomey

He was wealthy, born to wealth, with a wife and children in a mansion on St. Charles, land from Natchez to Memphis, a man of taste and discretion, well-schooled in the ways of the world.

She was famous, born to poverty, with a man who beat her and a red leather trunk containing everything she owned, a woman-child of the sort you find with a stage for a cradle, knowing nothing of the world beyond footlights.

But before the lights she shined, and oh, how she sang. One night as she did, moving the very air with her presence, the man with the mansion on St. Charles sitting in an upstairs box smiled knowing not only that his heart had been plucked from his chest and that she held it in her hand.

No, no, the story doesn’t end with her moving into the mansion or even with him setting her up in a nice walk-up on Ursuline. It ends with him keeping her for a dazzling week before the revue—now the musical comedy ‘In Dahomey’—swept her to the streets of Manhattan, London and other arms.

And the man? Ah, the next year he bought another lot of land in the Mississippi Delta, in Bolivar County, 24,000 acres, at a time he largest cotton plantation in the world, and he smiled when he signed the deed, naming it for her.

 

Hidden Treasure

Jaime Harker is owner and proprietor of the Violet Valley Bookstore in Water Valley, Mississippi. 

Every day so far in my nascent life as a bookseller, I go through boxes of books. I can hardly keep up with the donations; just when I think I am finally getting caught up, someone comes in with say, seven boxes of books from their home in Iowa, or a box of children’s books culled from their kids’ bookshelves, and I begin again.

I love it. I love digging through books, with no idea what I am going to find next. Going through a box of self-help books and mass market paperbacks, I find a 90s edition of Tales of the City; Somerset Maugham lurks under Nicholas Sparks. In true crime paperbacks from the 2000s, I discover a couple of Fitzgerald’s “Great Brain” books, and three “Black Beauty” volumes. You have to know what you are looking for, to have the eureka moment. I like to leave little surprises scattered through the bookstore for discriminating readers. I know when I have a kindred spirit, because I hear little gasps of delight as they find an unexpected treasure on a lower shelf.

My academic life has always been about hidden treasure. When I first moved to Mississippi, I read John Howard’s Men Like That, and he gave me a vision of a vast queer Mississippi underground, erupting in newspaper stories, highway rest stops, and bookshelves. He introduced me to three gay Mississippi writers, including Hubert Creekmore, Water Valley native, poet, novelist, translator, and editor. I checked Creekmore’s The Welcome out of the UM library; it took me over ten years to locate a copy. I have been asking every editor at the University Press of Mississippi to reprint the novel, with no success. Opening a queer feminist bookstore in Creekmore’s hometown is, I hope, the first step in a campaign to bring him back in print.

I love digging around in archives. I spent two weeks hunting for fan letters in Christopher Isherwood’s papers. I found amazing ones, including a young man from North Carolina who mailed Isherwood photographs of his lovers, with detailed commentary on the back of each; water color portraits in a handwritten tribute; flirty come-ons from English teenagers. He wrote them all back, and often invited them to his house. At Duke University, I found the papers of fantastic Southern lesbian feminists. They kept everything—not just letters with agents and editors, but love letters from exes, flyers for readings, gossip and descriptions of parties and chance encounters. Dorothy Allison’s are my favorite. Most archives organize correspondence by letter writer, and store them alphabetically. Dorothy Allison kept every piece of mail she received in order and has them in her archive by date. One has to really dig to find the gems. But in between, you get a sense of her life as it was lived: Flip; a flyer for a reading; flip, a letter to her friend about her recent breakup; flip, a letter to her agent; flip, an invitation to an S/M sex party; flip, a letter to a manufacturer complaining about a defective whip she received in the mail; flip, a letter from Cris South, a member of the Feminary collective and novelist, about her forthcoming book and her shifting identity from butch to bottom; flip, a contract from her editor. Finding the treasures was a delight, but so was the rich tapestry of a live lived in real time, without a sense of what would be seen as ‘important’ later. That sequence is what makes it important, even as the gems I uncover become part of another narrative forming in my own head.

The treasures are the stories I share when people wonder how I could spend seven years working on a book. But the truth is I love the searching as much as I love the discovery. Doing research has taught me patience, something that my wife Dixie tells me I sorely need. She’s right. Chefs understand this, of course. You can’t rush the rising of the dough, the marinade on the pork, or the brine on the turkey; slow-roasted vegetables in the oven are better than the microwave or boiling water. I have a tendency to want things right away, but Dixie knows that the best things take time. Writing a book teaches you that, too. You can’t dash off a dissertation, or a book, in a series of all-nighters. You have to work a little bit every day, without being able to see the end; you research, and write, and revise, and repeat, endlessly. To sustain this, you must learn to love the process, to learn to love the questions themselves, as Rilke put it: ““Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Violet Valley Bookstore is the same. I have no idea how I am going to keep the bookstore going once the semester starts, with a full-time job, how it will evolve, whether it can become self-sustaining. Dixie tells me I don’t have to. I have an emergency savings account, with enough for hard expenses to last six months. I have a plan, month-to-month, six-months to six-months. I have a vision. But I also love the process—the arrival of books, the evolving categories on the shelves, the unexpected visitors to the store, from San Francisco and Durham and Jackson and Oxford. I love the excited teenagers, taking photos for Snapchat, and the serious bibliophiles, touching the vintage Mississippi textbooks. I would like this little 10×40 foot bookshop to be a hidden treasure in Mississippi for years to come.

 

Kettle-Fried Matzo Balls

The name beneath this recipe from New Stage Theatre’s Standing Room Only: Recipes for Entertaining (1983) is Ellen Douglas, but everyone should know that Ellen Douglas is the pen name for writer Josephine Ayers Haxton. Born in Natchez, she married composer Kenneth Haxton in 1945 and shortly afterwards moved to Haxton’s hometown of Greenville. There she befriended Shelby Foote and Hodding Carter and began writing in earnest.

According to the author, she entered into a wager with her husband and a mutual friend on who could finish a novel in the least amount of time and won the bet. The resulting work, A Family’s Affairs (1962), is largely autobiographical in nature, requiring her to get her family’s permission to publish the narrative and resulting in her adoption of the pen name Ellen Douglas. The book not only sold well, but it also won the Houghton Mifflin Esquire Fellowship Award for best new novel and was named as one the year’s ten best books by The New York Times. Her second work, Black Cloud, White Cloud (1963), a collection of short stories, also won the Houghton Mifflin Esquire Fellowship Award, and her 1973 novel Apostles of Light was a finalist for the National Book Award. Other works include The Rock Cried Out (1973) and A Lifetime Burning (1982). Josephine Haxton died in Jackson in 2012.

Though Ayers was not Jewish, her mother-in-law Ellise Blum Haxton was the daughter of Jewish merchant Aaron Blum of Nelms and Blum department store in Greenville, and this recipe may have come from her kitchen. From my (demonstrably obvious non-Jewish) perspective, fried matzos seem like just another variety of hushpuppy, though serving them with catfish—which is decidedly non-kosher—might be a bit rude. These make a great side for any number of meat dishes—baked chicken or fish, beef roast, what have you—but they’re also a great buffet nosh served with a sauce made with one part each grated horseradish, sour cream and mayonnaise seasoned with salt and cayenne to taste.

Soak two matzo crackers in water; drain and squeeze dry. Heat 2 tablespoons chicken fat, and sauté ¼ medium onion until golden brown. Add soaked matzos and cook and stir until the mixture “clears” the skillet. Cool. Add a teaspoon chopped parsley, a teaspoon salt, a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger, an eighth teaspoon both ground pepper and nutmeg, two lightly beaten eggs and enough matzo meal (about a quarter cup) to make a soft dough. Let stand for several hours to swell. Shape into small balls. Fry in deep fat (assumedly not lard, jly) until golden brown. The balls can be formed and frozen before frying. (This recipe makes about 20 balls.)

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 up here but they could down there.

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.

 

A  History of Belhaven–1966-Present

The old Power School closed  in 1954 because of structural problems. The following year a new Power opened at 1120 Riverside Drive with the same faculty and   continued providing traditional elementary education until a significant and ultimately landmark event occurred in the early 1980’s. Funding was secured through an Emergency School Aid Act grant (ESAA Magnet), written By Dr. Swinton Hill, assistant superintendent for federal programs, with assistance by Joyce Holly. This program brought $1.2 million to the Jackson Public Schools. From September 1981 to June 1982, an initial block grant of $396,000 from this fund was used to introduce a new Academic and Performing Arts Complex (APAC) into the fourth and fifth grade curriculums. It also opened the door for additional funding for Bailey Magnet and Murrah High Schools, which would become key contributors to this farsighted educational network.

Dr. Jean Simmons, coordinator of the Power APAC Performing Arts Division, joined the academic planning in the early fall of 1981 as the program was being developed and put together a curriculum drawn from the expertise of each department chair and faculty. Her efforts established credibility with local professional area arts organizations, educational institutions and the general public.

All Jackson students are welcome to audition and test for inclusion in the APAC program regardless of income or background. Former student Amber Williams, a 2013 Power APAC student, credited the program for her developing interest in dance. “Power APAC influenced my interest in fine arts of all forms, especially dance. Dancing is my personal form of expression and artistic vision. Since enrolling in Power, I decided to add dancing to my academic pursuits.” Amber continues in her field of interest today having gained the ability to focus on her strengths and talents in order to make beneficial decisions concerning her future.

The four areas of the performing arts in which Power APAC shares instruction with Bailey and Murrah are dance, drama, music and the visual arts. In these areas Power has partnered with numerous Belhaven neighborhood and Jackson institutions to bring first hand experiences to students. Some of these organizations are New Stage, Belhaven University, Mississippi Museum of Art, ETV, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Mississippi Opera. Local artists with whom students have worked include Miss Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker Alexander, Beth Henley, Mary Ann Mobley, Gary Collins, Sam Gilliam, Ed McGowan, Jamie Wyeth and Leontine Price.

Power APAC has prospered under the leadership of school Principal Marlynn Martin who came to Power in June 2010 after a distinguished career in academia and school administration. The school has received a multitude of honors from  local and national  sources including the distinguished John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education Award in 2010-11 and recently was designated a 2016-18 Exemplary School by the Arts School Network, the largest professional membership organization of specialized arts schools in America.

Old Power and Power APAC have been part of Belhaven’s basic education fabric for over 100 years. Regardless of the time and circumstance both share the goals of preparing our children for the world of their day and structuring their lives in order to achieve their maximum potential. They have been and are graced by excellent teachers and administrators dedicated to making society better than they found it in their own day.  From Miss Marcia Gibbs to Dr. Marylynn Martin, the mission of each administration has been to teach children and encourage them to reach their highest level of achievement. John Logan Power would be proud of his namesakes and our neighborhood and city owe much to that fine name.

New Stage Theater began its life at 7:30 p.m. January 25, 1966, in a converted Seventh Day Adventist Church at the corner of S. Gallatin and Hooker Streets. It was a cold night, temperature 25 degrees, and what little heat generated in the building found ways to escape through cracks under its doors. Its first production was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a radical production for its time.

The theater was created the previous fall by a farsighted group of nine, Ford and Jane Reid Petty, Patti and Carl Black, Howard and Beth Jones, Kay and Jim Childs and Jackson Daily News Amusement Editor Frank Hains.  According to Jim Childs, New Stage had three goals: the establishment of a serious theater with a professional director, staff and actors who produced contemporary works selected for their artistic merit; a theatrical forum  open to all and a theater where you did not have to join and become a member to attend productions. Jane Reid Petty was the driving force behind the group who hired New Yorker Ivan Rider as its first director.

New Stage was a groundbreaker in Jackson during the 1960s. Not only did it bring productions of a modern and sophisticated content but through an association with Tugaloo College, courageously faced the issues of integration and civil rights associated with the arts.

No new artistic venture with any degree of unconventional mission could have survived and thrived during those formative years without influence. Eudora Welty, already well known and respected in the literary community, joined the New Stage board in 1970, placing her name among its roster of artists. Several members of the Tougaloo College faculty lent their names to the new enterprise as well as members of the theater department at Jackson State University. In the early 2000s, Bill McCarty, III, of the prominent Jitney Jungle family, stepped up from his role as a volunteer board member to full time general manager. Without Bill’s tireless work and family financial support New Stage would not be what it is today.

New Stage moved to Belhaven in 1978 when it acquired the Little Theater building and mortgage at the corner of Whitworth and Carlisle Streets. Today it serves a community far beyond Jackson as more than 35,000 Mississippians attend performances each year. It boasts a statewide educational touring program, school fest matinees for students, performs in touring shows and sponsors youth productions of Shakespeare in the Park each spring. In 1995, the theater’s education program received the Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Today, New Stage produces five main stage shows per season, has a 41 member board of trustees and is supported by ticket sales, grants, subscriptions and hundreds of financial donations from throughout the state.

While topical in its productions, New Stage does not hesitate to occasionally step back in time for a historical perspective. It recently concluded a record breaking performance of the Million Dollar Quartet which featured the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Nightly packed houses stood and cheered those magical memories and artists from 60 years ago.  From Virginia Woolf to Jerry Lee is quite a stretch, but for over four sold out weeks, there was a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Virginia Woolf would have enjoyed it too had she been there.

We can’t leave this topic without a tribute to Jackson’s Little Theater. This amateur collection of volunteer actors and directors began its life on Carlisle Street in 1925. An outgrowth of similar European theater movements of the 1880s and 90s, it had its genesis in 1911 and 1912 with the formation of theaters in Boston, Chicago and New York. The movement reached Jackson in 1924 in the person of Margaret P. Green who organized the Little Theater Players of Jackson the following year. Its non-profit mission was to cultivate, advance and promote education in dramatic literature, expression and art.  It did so for 53 eventful years.

In those 90 plus years when young and old took their friends and families to first  the Little Theater and later New Stage they must have done so with a subliminal understanding of what William Shakespeare wrote so many years before:

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.”
As You Like It, II,vii

For four generations the Belhaven neighborhood has had the privilege of attending plays and musicals down on Carlisle Street.  Many famous playwrights, actors, directors, audiences and supporters have passed through its doors and played their roles for entertainment and historical enlightenment.  The curtain is set to rise on New Stage’s 52nd season, just another attraction to one of America’s great neighborhoods.

Baptist Medical Center Jackson has evolved since its inception in 1908, when Doctors Harley Shands and John Farrar Hunter united in a successful effort to provide Jackson’s first true brick and mortar medical facility. It has since grown from its origin at the southeast corner or Manship and State Streets to a six block long complex running from Fortification to Marshall.  It is now Mississippi’s premier health provider. In addition to the main campus in Belhaven, there are 21 Center clinics with 107 providers in the metro area. With the addition of the clinics and the medical center, the entire organization has been named Mississippi Baptist Health Systems.

A 2016 report to the community shows a facility with 3,000 employees and approximately 500 physicians on the medical staff. Net revenue was $454 million with approximately $18 million in charity care.

The modern day Baptist has embarked on a multitude of local health projects. These include the Baptist Medical Office Building containing 13 specialty clinics, expansion of woman’s and cardiovascular services, a Madison Performance Center, a joint venture with MS Sports Medicine and SouthStar, and the Belhaven Building, a multipurpose facility, which opened in 2013 in concert with Landmark Healthcare. This building was constructed to accommodate a variety of professions and residents. It currently houses the Manship Restaurant, a Trustmark Bank, a parking garage and is backed on the south end with 11 luxury townhouses (Belhaven Village).

On May 1, 2017, Mississippi Baptist Health Systems signed a shared mission agreement with Baptist Memorial Health Care in Memphis. As a result of this agreement, Baptist Memorial became Mississippi’s fourth largest employer and the largest health care system in the state. Baptist Memorial hospitals offer patients in all areas access to the region’s largest network of doctors and specialists.

In February 2018, Baptist will launch an electronic medical record called Baptist OneCare. The software powering this program is used in integrated health networks, community hospitals, academic medical centers and children’s organizations. Its biggest convenience for patients is “My Chart”, a free app assessable via Smartphone or computer, allowing patients to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, direct message their care providers, access lab results and much more.

As a good corporate citizen, Baptist continues to provide charitable support to community and philanthropic organizations. These include the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Head for the Cure brain cancer research, March of Dimes and Baptist Foundation’s annual Cyclists Curing Cancer Century Ride in September.

The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation and its constituency owe much to Baptist Medical Center. More than 16 years ago, Baptist and the Foundation began a partnership to preserve and enhance Greater Belhaven. Many of the improvements and benefits we see each day in our neighborhood were made possible through this partnership.

Baptist Medical Center has received numerous recognitions for its health care performance. In 2017, Healthgrades named the center one of America’s 100 best Hospitals for orthopedic surgery and one of the nation’s 50 Best Hospitals for vascular surgery. In addition, for two years in a row, Baptist received Healthgrades Outstanding Patient experience Award.

Awards were not limited to physicians and specialists. In 2017, after ten years of work, the hospital received the nation’s top honor for nursing excellence called the “Magnet”, given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, an affiliate of the American Nurses Association. It was the only hospital in Mississippi to receive this designation.

There have been a number of other awards and recognitions received by Baptist Medical Center whose early health care developers had the foresight to lay the path for a long and eventful journey. There will be a number more to come. (6)

What would Dr. Shands think of his and Dr. Hunter’s idea spawned over a century ago? He is not here to tell us but in an interview with his granddaughter Susan Shands Jones, she felt she knew. “My grandfather was a stern but very professional man. He cared deeply for his patients and their families. When he was not growing camellias he was doing surgery and would be quite impressed with today’s modern and well-equipped surgical suites and how much heart treatment has improved”.

Baptist is coming up on its 109th year of service to the health needs of our community and state. Yet, the facility remains a good neighbor and enthusiastic supporter of our own future right here in the neighborhood where it first began.

Belhaven University has come a long way from Louis Fitzhugh’s dream of a Christian girl’s school in 1894 and that hot, windy afternoon in 1910 when the college’s second president Dr. James Rhea Preston’s daughters watched fire consume that dream a second time only leading to a third on the Peachtree campus in 1927. The college has survived these conflagrations, a depression economy, elusive accreditation, myriad ownership and four name changes. The school became a University in 2009.

Today’s Belhaven University is a private four-year liberal arts institution and occupies a Jackson campus composed of 42 acres. The site is bounded by Peachtree Street, Pinehurst and Greymont Avenues and Belvoir Place. It is composed of classrooms, residence halls and administrative buildings, a lake, a bowl stadium, a pavilion, a commons and lighted fountain. Every four years the City of Jackson hosts the International Ballet Competition and Belhaven University provides lodging for a majority of its participants from throughout the world.

As of 2017, there are a total of 4,500 Belhaven students, 1,200 traditional with approximately 600 living on the Jackson campus and 1,000 adult students on the LeFleur Campus in Ridgeland. Twenty-three hundred adult studies and graduate students are enrolled on campuses in Memphis/Desoto County, Houston, Orlando, Chattanooga/Dalton County and Atlanta, plus participating in an ongoing online program.

The school is a member of NCAA Division III, belonging to the Mid-South and Southern States Athletic Conference. In 1929, the college library of 2,000 books was short of sufficiency for accreditation. The Hood Library now has 115,000 volumes and 500 periodicals.

The Jackson campus has 88 faculty members including 68 with doctorates or terminal degrees. There are 54 undergraduate and eight graduate studies programs available with a wide variety of concentrations ranging from health administration to human resources. Associate degree programs are available as well. The Adult and Graduate Program, located in a facility on I-55 north in Jackson, provides an encouraging educational environment where adult graduate students can complete their degree while maintaining their careers and personal lives.

In just a brief time period, Belhaven University has experienced growth in all three areas of academic excellence – traditional, adult and online. The adult and graduate components have added four locations (the newest this year in Madison). The traditional campus on Peachtree has expanded Fitzhugh Hall to accommodate its nursing and science studies. In addition the school has built an international center, upgraded the athletic bowl to a state of the art multipurpose stadium, built an apartment style residence hall, added a 43,000 square foot visual and dance center, a walking trail and by 2018 will have a brand new track. A University Center for the Arts at 835 Riverside has been adapted to host musical and fine arts events.  The entire metro area looks forward each December to the University’s Singing Christmas Tree.

Belhaven University is more than keeping pace with the times and demands of today’s education. It, along with First Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Medical Center and Power APAC School form the cornerstones of the special place in which we live.

This has been a brief history of our Belhaven Neighborhood from 1894 to August 2017. But like all accounts it cannot cover all facets of its legacy. Older citizens will remember the old blind institute at the northwest corner of State and Fortification streets where neighbor children would slide down it corkscrew fire escape although their mothers had told them not to. Further down on the west side of State Street was the old charity hospital and its park where kids from Davis and Power Schools would meet to play baseball in the spring, and to the north,  Beth-Israel Cemetery (1860) and the site of several prominent family homes now gone. On the east side were Jess Willoughby’s Barber Shop and Patterson Drugs, about where McDonalds is today. Further down was Morris Pharmacy, now the Manship Restaurant, Jitney Jungle # 9 and the Snack Shop near Poplar. The wonderful Parkin Pharmacy, originally part of English Village and later a standalone where Lou’s serves lunch and dinner may remind some of John Archie and the “pill wagon” that delivered prescriptions to our homes. All have given way to progress but remain part of our heritage.

We know that what is the present today is history by the morning sunrise. With this in mind, there will be an additional segment on how our neighborhood’s future is being shaped and assured by far-reaching creativity and planning on the part of capable leadership and our residents’ faith in its vision. Look for it soon. You might find yourself in its picture.

Copyright: Bill and Nan Harvey 2017