World Facts Index > United States > Jackson

Visitors to Jackson will discover an interesting blend of old and new that is perhaps best exemplified by the citys distinct neighborhoods. As Mississippis largest city and state capital, Jackson is home to nearly 200,000 souls, although its slow pace and wide population distribution make it seem smaller. Located on the banks of the winding Pearl River, the city was incorporated in 1833 for the express purpose of being the capital, and its orderly layout still stands as a testament to the lasting benefits of sound city planning. Exploring the city requires some forethought, however, and usually a car, as many of Jacksons tourist attractions, shopping opportunities, and business concerns are spread over a large geographic area.

Downtown is where the action is, at least during business hours. The heart of old Jackson centers around the government facilities that built the city and continue to provide it with its lifeblood. At ground zero sits the Mississippi State Capitol, bordered by High Street to the north and President Street to the east. Built in 1903, this stunning structure was modeled on the United States Capitol in Washington, and cuts a commanding figure against the downtown skyline. Two blocks to the south, on the corner of Congress and Capitol, you will find the Mississippi Governors Mansion, a fine example of Greek Revival architecture and one of the few lucky buildings to survive the Civil War. Two other ante-bellum buildings are located nearby: the Old State Capitol on State Street and Jackson City Hall at the corner of Pascagoula and Congress. In addition to its own historical value, the Old Capitol building harbors the countrys most comprehensive museum on Mississippi history and culture. The three-storied City Hall presides regally over a bronze likeness of Andrew Jackson, the nations seventh president and the citys namesake. The statue stands in a pleasant garden that is one of downtowns most popular gathering places.

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.

Elsewhere, for the most part, consists of the northside suburban sprawl that begins with the town of Ridgeland. Just a few miles from the city center, Ridgeland is comprised of an enormous mass of shopping, eating, and lodging opportunities, along with a bit of nightlife. At the core of it all is the Northpark Mall, providing Jackson shoppers with everything from large national department stores to the finest in local specialty shops.

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
North of the downtown business district is a comfortable neighborhood of residences, small businesses, and large medical facilities. In the middle of it all is scenic Millsaps College, a small liberal arts school that features perhaps the most pleasant campus in Jackson. Across the road, the towering Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium is a venue for concerts and major sporting events. This area also contains the nucleus of Jacksons thriving medical community, anchored by the enormous Baptist Medical Center on State Street, and the University of Mississippi Medical School.

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.

Farish Street
Historically significant but financially depressed in recent years, the Farish Street Historical District is comprised of roughly 60 square blocks just to the west of downtown Jackson. In the years of racial segregation that followed the Civil War, this neighborhood became the center of black culture, politics, religion and business. At its peak, Farish Street was a thriving and vibrant community, and landmarks like the Alamo Theater regularly hosted such greats as Louis Armstrong and Jackie Robinson, but the district has experienced a significant decline over the past two decades. With nearly 700 historical landmarks within its boundaries, including churches, buildings and Civil Rights shrines, the neighborhood is worth seeing, but visitors unfamiliar with the area are advised to use caution. If you visit Jackson during September, be sure to check out the Farish Street Heritage Festival, a week-long event that pays tribute to the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans in Jackson.

Outlying Areas
Much of interest lies outside the citys easily-discernable neighborhoods. Amid the lower middle class neighborhoods that stretch away to the southwest of downtown, for example, are the enormous Methodist Medical Center and Jackson State University. One of the nations premier historically-black colleges, Jackson State is home to the newly-renovated H.T. Sampson Library and historic Ayer Hall, and the JSU Tigers compete in many intercollegiate sports. Similarly-positioned to the near northwest of downtown, the Medgar Evers Home, a fittingly-subtle tribute to the soft-spoken Civil Rights martyr, sits on a quiet residential street. This part of town also features several public golf courses, the bucolic Mynelle Gardens, and the gem of the citys park system, the Jackson Zoological Park.

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 Jackson

The 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
First Natchez and then sleepy Washington were named capitals of the new state, but soon Mississippis leaders desired a more central location. An exploratory expedition was commissioned to scout out potential sites and the search party eventually settled on a point in central Mississippi along the Pearl River called LeFleurs Bluff, after French-Canadian trader Louis LeFleur, who had established a trading post on the site in 1792.

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
Plans to create an appropriate capitol building were approved in 1833, but economic depression and political squabbling delayed the project for several years. It wasn't until 1839 that the magnificent Greek Revival Capitol Building opened its doors. This stately structure served Mississippi for roughly 60 years, surviving even the Great War Between the States, before it was deemed out-of-date and inadequate. Following a blueprint patterned after the United States Capitol in Washington, construction of the new Mississippi State Capitol building just around the corner was completed in 1903.

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'
Although more commonly-known as the American Civil War, Southerners of the time and Mississippians in particular favored a more biased term for the conflict that descended upon the country in the 1860s. In January of 1861, the Mississippi State Legislature in Jackson formally adopted an article of secession, a decision that ultimately boded very poorly for the state, and especially for Jackson. By 1865, Mississippis once-thriving agricultural economy was in ruins, the regions budding infrastructure had been destroyed, and prospects for recovery were grim. The town was so devastated that it earned the nickname 'Chimneyville,' a testament to what remained standing at wars end.

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
Long known for its repressive laws and some of the strictest Jim Crow standards in the South, Jackson became a focal point for the Civil Rights struggle in the 1960s. Such notable leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael, and Medgar Evers worked diligently to organize demonstrations, cultural directives, and protest activities in local churches, restaurants and homes.

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
The city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi have made great strides in the past three decades. The capital city has settled into a comfortable niche as the seat of state government and regional business, and, since giant Worldcom came to town, a budding telecommunications center. Jackson, which elected its first black mayor in 1997, is a city on the rise, struggling to shake off the demons of a storied past while looking to a better future for all of Mississippi.

The Weather

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