Written by Vijay Shah
From Ohio, I never thought that I would visit Mississippi, let alone live here. But last summer I took a promotion at the University Press of Mississippi in Jackson!
Upon my move here from Illinois, where I also worked in publishing, Mississippi was commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Medgar Evers’ assassination, the New York Times ran a positive travel account of Jackson, and Mayor Lumumba was just taking office. Indeed, within my first few weeks here, I attended the inaugural ball. It felt like everything was converging with my arrival.
Since then, I have delved into the local arts’ scene. I attended Faulkner’s literary festival in Oxford, and literally live around the corner from Eudora Welty’s house. Besides Faulkner and Welty, I have been finding out about all their literary precursors and successors from Mississippi, including Jesmyn Ward and Kiese Laymon.
At Gallery One, near Jackson State, I checked out Mississippi native John Jennings’ vivid illustrations of blues musicians. Downtown, Jackson’s own Scott Crawford exhibited an imaginative vision of his city in Legos. Despite the issue of gentrification that we must confront, I remain excited about all the artistic activity in the Midtown neighborhood. There the laid-back club Soul Wired offers quite a creative venue.
Over the last year, I have also learned much about segregation and civil rights. Upon the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, I attended a panel of valiant Mississippians who risked travel to the capital for that historic event. Sure, I could have heard those potent testimonies elsewhere, but somehow it felt more meaningful here. Even today I have witnessed dedicated local people struggling mightily for justice.
Actually, I have been working with some advocates who are trying to improve public transit in Jackson. I could not believe that JATRAN’s buses halt at seven p.m., for this limit seems unhelpful to workers with later schedules and inconvenient to young adults and others who simply want to enjoy the city at night. So we intend to extend the service into the evening. Actually, I managed to raise the issue in the recent mayoral campaign. As a result, I feel very involved in Jackson, such a powerful feeling!
I have met some fine drivers and passengers on the bus, learning a lot more than if I had merely driven around in my own car. When telling people that I ride the bus, they look at me like I have a hole in my head. Yet, I believe that Jackson needs much better public transit truly to become a city of the future.
Despite the many regional differences, somehow Jackson reminds me of my native Cleveland as neither are destination cities. During my first year in Mississippi, a veritable southern adventure, I have mainly heard about how Jackson is changing, for the better. This process of becoming reminds me of that children’s story about the caterpillar that miraculously turns into a butterfly. Will Jackson ever transform into that splendid butterfly? Only we will determine if that Monarch will ever fly skyward.
Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy is available now for purchase. To order a copy, call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or visit us online at www.lemuriabooks.com. Please join us in celebrating Jackson on August 5th at 5:00 in Banner Hall!
Written by Lemuria