Downtown is home to most of Jacksons cultural outlets. Two blocks from City Hall rests the Russell C. Davis Planetarium, one of the largest in the Southeast, right next door to the Mississippi Museum of Art, which boasts the worlds largest collection of folk art and crafts by regional artisans. Performances by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, the Ballet Magnificat!, and the Mississippi Opera Association are regularly scheduled at Thalia Mara Hall, a state-of-the-art auditorium directly across the street.
Today, as in 1833, the downtown area remains the center of Jacksons government and business affairs. However, most restaurants and retail outlets shut down promptly at the close of the business day, as Jacksonians tend not to tarry here after dark. Its not that the area is unsafe after hours, merely abandoned. If you're looking to extend your day past 10pm, you will need to look elsewhere.
While you're in the area, be sure to pay a visit to Tougaloo College. One of the nations oldest and most-respected traditionally black colleges, Tougaloos historic Woodworth Chapel was the site of many important meetings and events during the Civil Rights Movement. Also of historical significance is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which bypasses Jackson through Ridgeland and neighboring Madison. One of Americas oldest and most beautiful thoroughfares, the Trace was originally a trading route for American Indians and today operates under the protection of the National Park Service. Ridgeland is also home to one of Jacksons most popular recreational facilities, the Ross Barnett Reservoir. This 33,000-acre expanse of water was created by the damming of the Pearl River, and is a summertime playground for boaters, swimmers, fisherman and picnic-goers. A nearby waterpark with swimming pools and water slides is a great place to cool off kids wound up after a day of driving.
The greater portion of Jacksons metropolitan population resides in Ridgeland and neighboring suburbs to the north, including most of the regions more affluent residents. This, combined with the areas dense concentration of shopping and hotels makes the vicinity the busiest and most crowded in town. Allow plenty of time to reach destinations in Ridgeland, particularly during rush hour, weekends, and periods of heavy shopping or special events.
Mid North is home to many museums and recreational outlets, perhaps none more utilized than the verdant expanse of LeFleurs Bluff State Park. Offering fishing, camping, and even a nine-hole public golf course, the park also houses one of the citys most cherished shrines, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Across the street, a large, state-owned complex is home to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum. And while you're in the neighborhood, be sure to catch a minor league baseball game at Smith-Wills Stadium, home to the Houston Astros' AA farm club, the Jackson Generals.
Due west of the Old State Capitol, you will find the sprawling greens of the Mississippi State Fairgrounds. The regular site of exhibitions, livestock shows, and of course, the State Fair, the facility also houses the Mississippi Coliseum, where large-scale conventions meet and the Jackson Bandits take to the ice to compete in East Coast League hockey.
Clinton, about eight miles to the northwest of the city center, is home to telecommunications giant Worldcom.
History of JacksonThe legacy of the Choctaw
When Spanish explorer Hernanado de Soto first explored the rolling woodlands east of the Mississippi River in 1540, he encountered little hostility from the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez who lived here, but he encountered even less silver or gold, so his visit was short-lived.
In 1699, French pioneer Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville laid claim to much of Mississippi for his European monarch. The French established trade routes through the region, dealing chiefly in fur and other lucrative domestic resources. Over the next 100 years, the region was alternately controlled (or at least claimed) by the French, Spanish and English. In 1798, the Mississippi Territory was created by an act of the United States Congress, incorporating the landmass that comprises modern-day Mississippi as well as most of Alabama.
Mississippi was granted statehood in 1817, and, in 1820, the Treaty of Doaks Stand effectively ceded most of what remained of Choctaw-controlled land to the federal government, and cleared the way for larger white settlements. By the 1830s, what was left of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes were forcibly relocated to the Oklahoma Territory. The Natchez had been all but exterminated nearly a century before.
New statehood and a capital dilemma
Construction began in April of 1822 following a city plan suggested by Thomas Jefferson in 1798. The new capital city featured a checkerboard pattern of straight, perpendicular streets with public squares of green space interspersed among blocks designated for building. The orderly downtown arrangement still exists but most of the green space has been lost. One spot remains as a verdant reminder of Jeffersons vision: Smith Park, directly behind the Governors Mansion at the heart of downtown. The new city was named in honor of Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, and the future seventh president of the United States. Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina and Washington, DC are the only cities in the U.S. specifically created and designed to serve as capitals.
Government grows, commerce follows
In 1840, the railroad came to Jackson and the city became a vital link in the Southern system of transportation. Although this distinction aided considerably in the commercial development of the region, it is one that most Jacksonians would have foregone once the Civil War came to town.
In January, 1842, Governor Tilghman Tucker moved his family into the newly-constructed Governors Mansion, just three blocks from the Capitol in downtown Jackson. This National Historic Landmark stands today as the second-oldest continuously-occupied governors residence in the country, and as one of the finest surviving examples of the Greek Revival style in the United States. Built by noted British architect William Nichols, who had also designed the Capitol building, the mansion was constructed at a cost of approximately $61,000, making it one of the priciest real estate investments of the era.
'The War of Northern Aggression'
Recovery was painfully slow, and it wasn't until the 1880s that Jackson slowly began to regain its footing as an important rail, warehousing, and distribution center. Also by the 1880s, however, Jim Crow laws began the institutionalized racism that would torment Mississippi and Jackson for generations to come. The citys blacks were confined to segregated neighborhoods. The largest and most vibrant of these neighborhoods was the Farish Street District. By the turn of the century, this 125-acre expanse just northwest of the New Capitol had become the unquestioned center of black society in Jackson, and served as a much-needed source of racial pride and mutual support. Black-owned businesses were formed and thrived, schools and churches were founded, and the small neighborhood grew into a city-within-the-city, a center for cultural development, social involvement, and political action. Through the 1930s and 40s, a unique cultural scene continued to flourish, and Farish Street venues such as the Crystal Palace Night Club and the Alamo Theater hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Lionel Hampton. Later, the neighborhood would come to be ground zero for the Civil Rights endeavors of the 1960s.
Although today the neighborhood has become somewhat depressed, the annual Farish Street Heritage Festival is held each summer to commemorate the days of sidewalk musicians, open markets, and thriving black-owned businesses. With over 690 listings on the National Register of Historic Places, the Farish Street Historic District is home to three of only twelve antebellum structures in Jackson. Much of the architecture dating from 1860 to 1940 is still standing, featuring work by black architects, carpenters, and craftsmen.
Civil Rights and wrongs
Evers, a local businessman who had helped lead economic boycotts of white-owned businesses that perpetuated segregation, was shot outside his home on Jacksons northwest side on June 12, 1963. Byron de la Beckwith was tried twice for the murder, but both trials, before all-white juries, failed to bring in a conviction. Jailed on unrelated charges, de la Beckwith boasted of his involvement in Evers' murder, and, finally, a new trial in 1994 yielded a conviction based on these accounts, as well as new evidence. The dramatic story of this prolonged pursuit of justice is played out in the book and movie Ghosts of Mississippi. Today, a life-sized bronze statue of the fallen leader stands at a local library, and a modest museum is maintained at Evers' former home.
Out of the ashes, new life
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