As a child growing up in Jackson, I never realized the importance of the Farish Street Historic District. My parents would advise me that it wasn’t a place for anyone to linger about, especially at night. It wasn’t until I took a photography course during my senior year at Jackson State University that I actually walked down the street of what was once known as a cultural and business hub for the Black population in Mississippi. I was shocked to discover that only a few businesses remained, and even then it was a shell of what once stood. For several years there has been much talk about revitalization efforts, but like many urban areas across the United States where the majority of the population is Black, the misappropriation of funds became an issue, thus leaving Farish Street in the state it is in today.
In the earlier stage of my career, I worked at the Two Mississippi Museums which houses the state history and civil rights museums. It was there that I learned the history and prominence of the Farish Street District. Black people were not allowed to shop on Capitol Street, which intersects with Farish Street in downtown Jackson, therefore descendents of formerly enslaved people built the Farish Street District as a safe haven for black Mississippians in the early to mid 1900s (during the period after the Civil War known as the Reconstruction Era). The 1896 court case Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” ruled that businesses and institutions could be separate as long as the accommodations were equal. During its heyday, Farish Street was the largest independent African American community in Mississippi with legal firms, loan companies, doctors, jewelers, banks, retail stores, and more. One major event occurred in 1963 after Medgar Evers’ funeral when over 3000 people marched down Farish Street in protest for inequality.
Today only a few businesses remain. Big Apple Inn, owned by Geno Lee, whose parents were civil rights activists, is one of the businesses that has operated on Farish Street since 1952. It was once a meeting place for civil rights activists during the civil rights movement and housed the office of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers on the second floor. Other businesses on Farish Street include Johnny T’s Bistro and Blues, Herbal Blessings, Meals that Heal, Marshall’s Music and Book Store, F. Jones Corner, E & M Florist, and Farish Street Fish House.
I believe the businesses that have found their home on Farish Street serve as beacons of hope. Recently, I attended First Fridays on Farish which is a community festival held on the first Friday of every month. For me, seeing a large group of Black people fellowshipping, making new friends, reconnecting with the old, and just having a good time filled me with emotion. I could not help but to think how a true revival of the Farish Street District would serve as a turning point in the Black community: job opportunities, community wealth, youth activities, and a resurgence of the Black Pride that once roamed those very streets during the late 19th century. I hope during my lifetime, I am fortunate enough to see the true rebirth of the Farish Street District.