Black Wall Streets: Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi

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  • Published on August 2, 2022
  • Last Updated March 10, 2023
  • In History

DETOUR’s ongoing series to highlight historic Black districts continues with a focus on the former beating heart of downtown Jackson’s Black community.

Jackson, Mississippi swelters in the summertime, but that didn’t stop Black Americans in the early 20th century from flocking to Farish Street to catch the hottest acts. The Alamo Theater hosted talents like Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington. Records were selling so hot that conventional stores added them to their wares. A label called Trumpet Records sprang up, bringing local artists to the national scene. The street rang out like a symphony of R&B, with tunes pouring out of every shop window. Restaurants, law offices, tailors, ice cream shops and more populated the busy district, which fell into a state of decay when integration caused an overall dissipation of Black buying power and many businesses closed.

History of attempts

Over the years, numerous attempts and millions of dollars have been poured into potential projects to revive the neglected area. However, mismanagement, infighting and red tape have repeatedly scuttled the process. Some observers note that there is a current of racial tension underneath why these projects fall apart that has been impossible to name. Residents have bristled at past attempts to revive the area as an “entertainment district,” the likes of which would not provide for the full lifestyle needs of current denizens. The back-and-forth has created eerie circumstances in the area, where newly finished sidewalks and infrastructure fixtures pave a path for nonexistent pedestrians and bookend abandoned buildings.

Current status

In spite of all the conflict, hopes have been renewed in recent years with increasing activity at existing establishments, speculative interest from locals who moved away, and a master plan for one 40,000 square-foot building in place. Last week, the historical Alamo Theater, open to Black patrons in its heyday but shuttered and reopened in 1997, screened the documentary Boss: The Black Experience in Business. In 2009, a juke joint called Frank Jones Corner began creating a space where patrons both Black and white come to enjoy swinging music and cold beer. Last year, Mississippi native and reality TV star Lateisha Pearson announced her intention to buy a block of land in the historic area and help bring it to life, inspired by her grandfather who grew up when the community was thriving. While the process has been slow, the energy around the street has been ramping up for years, and in the wake of the George Floyd uprising, when cities are finally starting to see the underdevelopment of certain areas for what it is, this may be the time it’s done right.

This story was created by Detour, a journalism brand focused on the best stories in Black travel, in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously under-reported or ignored narratives by shifting away from the customary routes framed in Eurocentrism. The detour team is made up of an A-list of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.

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