A helpful MissPres reader sent me a link to a longform series in Curbed called “10 streets that define America,” with a teaser line, “What do America’s streets—and the people who inhabit them—say about the state of our country in 2016?” One of the ten streets is Jackson’s Farish Street, and the article is written by Richard Grant, author of the recently published Dispatches from Pluto. I have to admit, I defied all the buzz this last year and avoided reading Dispatches until very recently, rather weary of articles and books about Mississippi by curious “outsiders” who fly in for a few days or a week and think they get it. But once I read the first chapter, Grant won me over. A British journalist but longtime New York resident, Grant approaches the Mississippi Delta in Dispatches with patience and a desire to learn the complexities of the place: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright funny. His character sketches are clear-eyed, and he doesn’t sugar-coat or magnolia-coat hard truths, but his love for the people and the place shines through.
I think this same sensitivity comes through in his Curbed article, which includes some brilliant photography by Ashley Gates. Here’s an excerpt, and I encourage you to click through to the full article:
Customers place their lunch orders at the Big Apple Inn on Farish Street, a few blocks north of downtown Jackson, Mississippi: “One ear hot.” “Two ear mild, three smoke.” A dollar-fifty gets you a pig ear sandwich with sauce, or a smear of smoked sausage meat on a bun.
A light rain falls outside and drips through the roof. Paint is peeling off the walls. The women making sandwiches call everyone “baby” and work behind a cracked Perspex screen held together with duct tape.
Above the Big Apple is a small, derelict room with broken windows. It used to be the office of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated by a white supremacist in 1963. “The city wanted to buy the building, fix it up, and put a Medgar Evers museum upstairs,” says Geno Lee, the fourth-generation proprietor of the Big Apple Inn.
But the building’s owner wanted millions for a building appraised at $35,000, because of its historical value and future earning potential, and no one was willing to pay his price. “I haven’t made money here in years,” says Geno Lee. “I stay open for nostalgia’s sake. Right now, I’m ready for anything to happen down here, no matter what.”
As you know, our own Suzassippi has been taking a closer look at the Farish Street neighborhood:
- When did the focus change from the Farish Street Historic District?
- Paris on Farish: Visiting Mississippi’s “Black Mecca”