I had made up my mind. I was moving to Jackson, MS. Heading Souf. Fresh outta THE Ohio State University with a Master’s in Education and a Minor in Art, I was going to teach and give it a real go with my boyfriend (now husband). He was flying and living down there at the time. I had only read about Mississippi in books. It wasn’t my first choice of city…or state for that matter. But, you roll with it, you know? Yolo.
Such a rough and rich history Mississippi has. This was the year I had stood in line for over 5 hours in Columbus to help elect our first African American president. It was such an honor. I was fully aware that I was relocating to the reddest of red states. The controversy of this election would still be fresh. I applied to work in Jackson Public Schools, which at the time was something like 96.8% African American. And poor. Although I attended Ohio State, I came from a very small, dominantly white town. I had volunteered or worked in the African American community in Cbus for years. It’s the reason I switched from an art major (LOL) to an education major in college. But this was different. I had moved to a new and different part of the country. I was completely immersed, plucked and placed. For the most part people were loving and welcoming, especially some of my coworkers, but I immediately felt the racial divide. It’s funny, people would ALWAYS say, “you’re not from here? Why would you move here?” It made me sad for Jackson. You should always rep your city! But the idea that I was a transplant separated me in a way I could never fully recover from. Yankee.
My first teaching job was at a school downtown right off of Woodrow Wilson. It was a foundational experience for my teaching career. I taught full day Pre-K. The kids were incredibly adorable and loving. I’ll remember the stories and memories they shared with me always. Sweethearts. It was a Title 1, underprivileged school in an underserved part of the city of Jackson. There were many unserved parts of the city. It exponentiated the understanding of the privilege I had simply by growing up white. It also made me feel very fortunate. My family was by no means wealthy. We grew up in a small house in a small town. But this…these babies came to school in torn and tattered uniforms that hadn’t been washed in days if at all. They missed school regularly due to poor transportation. I’ll never forget that year I gave one of my students a stupid lil trinket from a very common treat box on his birthday. He squeezed me and said it was the best gift he “ever got.” I know he was just an excited 5 year old on his birthday, but it gives you perspective you know? Certainly it wasn’t his best gift (hopefully) but the appreciation shown was so sincere. Those kids melted my heart. At the time it was hard adjusting to a Southern White community and Southern Black community simultaneously. They were different, separate things. I mean I was used to diversity at Ohio State but this was the opposite. I adapted quickly, something I pride myself on, but it was a completely different culture. One I really appreciate experiencing. We had our awards ceremonies at the church acrossed the street. “Obey” was a huge word used by teachers. Coming from Ohio State where we were taught to literally not say no to children. Let them be little adventurers and guide them. No, no, not in Jackson. And LMFAO but I tried. Thank God for my extremely helpful assistant teacher, who was older and wiser than me. She helped me find a balance between, “I see you need to jump, but furniture is not for jumping so let’s find somewhere more suited for jumping” and “You need to obey!” She also said it for me, lol. She would say. Miss Washinko is the teacher and you need to obey her. I think she knew it was a struggle for me. She told me to find my ghetto voice quick. Bless her heart. There were times when we would butt heads but when you work so closely with someone every day it is to be expected. “Washinko” was hard to pronounce for the tinies. One of them called me “Miss Machine Gun.” I always thought that’d be a pretty dope street name.
Jackson was still surprisingly segregated when we lived there. I mean not officially or anything, but they might as well have been. A lot of people would still use the racial slurs, one slur in particular…on the regular. It was appalling to me. I mean I had seen racism, but only like ignorant racism. Is all racism ignorant…? Hmmm…no some people are just assholes. Anyway, like ungrounded racism I should say. I got into a LOAD of debates/fights with people over politics and general human compassion. I was told twice to “go back to the kitchen where I belonged.” LMFAO. Mmmmmk. Thought people only said those things in fictitious depictions of the South, not real life but mmmk. I was referred to as the “yankee” a lot but that didn’t bother me. I kinda liked it.
It was hard to make friends in Jackson. Well not for my husband but that doesn’t say much. He can make friends with a rock. But I felt like it was very kinda click-y, especially for females. Everyone was from there or from close by. If you didn’t know them, they didn’t really care to be introduced. Remember this is from a female perspective. I’m sure my husband’s perspective is much different. I think women can be challenging to make friends with as an adult. I swore too much, drank, listened to hip hop, didn’t go to church regularly and had way different political views with the majority of our white peers. Hmmm… not much to talk about I guess. Of course, as always, there were exceptions. I adored the exceptions.
Now that was the bad part of Jacktown, but there were many, many lovely things. Like the weather, outside of the summer of course. And some of the people we met down there, extremely cool, down to earth, friendly people. And fun. We had too much fun in Mississippi. We were actually stupid as hell in Jackson. But fun, none the less. We were young. Our friends had a boat and we’d hang at the reservoir and just drink all day. The boys sure made a mischievous crew. There was this super authentic blues club downtown called 9:30 Blues Cafe. My husband and I loved it there. I didn’t know much about the blues until moving down South. We ended up getting pretty into it. We toured the Delta and checked out the local blues clubs. I made mixed CDs for our road trips. One of my favorite past times. Long live the mixed CD. There were two blues clubs in Jackson from what I can recall. Basically a white one and a black one. Basically, not officially, of course. Just trying to paint the picture. Guess which one was better…
My husband got his motorcycle while we were living in Jackson. The “motorbike” as he would call it. The crew all had motorbikes. We lived for motorcycle rides on back roads in the evening. Oh my goodness is Mississippi beautiful. It truly felt like God’s country. We saw cotton fields and shack like restaurants and beautiful landscapes. We rode along Natchez Trace often. When I remember riding the motorbike, the memories have a golden tint. We’d stop and grab beers or snacks in different destinations pre-planed by my husband. He would look up the routes. Always. I was just along for the ride. I’d put my headphones in and get lost in the beauty of nature and the nostalgia of a city that once was. I love riding through cities and the different neighborhoods. Rich history the south has. Historical shit is my ish and I loved photographing and getting to know Jackson and other places in the dirty South. I appreciate my experience in Jackson much more as a reflection. It was very eye opening for me.
We had pseudo parents. They were so generous and loving and Southern. They have money but you couldn’t tell outside of their large benevolent displays of affection. Love when you can’t tell people are wealthy until you see where they live or something and you’re like…whoa. My husband met them when he was sleeping on a couch in a small airport in Jackson. This was pre- me living in Jackson. They basically adopted him. He gave them flying lessons and he lived in their mansion in the forest. I’m not kidding. It’s one of the most beautiful houses. So unique and wooden. There was a pond outside their house where we would fish or just sit and chill, light a fire in the evenings. We had lovely conversations. They were Democrats. (LOL, I had to) The house is actually for sale, if you’re looking to relocate to the whimsical, countryside in Madison, MS, get at me 🙂 We did acquire the doggy love of our lives, Milo, in Jackson. He was a boxer and a big ol cuddly bear. The best pooch and our bestest friend.
We were fortunate enough to explore a lot of the South when we lived in Jackson. We were so close to New Orleans, which has become one of my favorite cities in the U.S and stale for another day. Again, it’s just such a unique culture. The FOOOOOOD…I can’t even. The music. The architecture in the city. Just the general vibe is electric, groovy. Our pseudo parents had their own plane and they would let my husband and I take it to New Orleans, Gulfport or other close cities. They were very sweet like that. I also got to tag along with the hubs on a lot of his flights, especially if they were in the summer. Once he introduced me as his co-pilot. A lot of laughter followed.
Living in Jackson helped me grow as a person and gave me the best experience for teaching in urban schools. As I mentioned, I didn’t appreciate as much when I lived there as I do now. At the time it was hard to look past the differences. But I realize I absorbed so much. Cheers to you Jackson, MS.
Recommendations if you find yourself in Jackson:
1. Sal and Mookies (pizza joint)
2. Babalu (tapas)
3. Keifer’s (Mediterranean)
4. Fenian’s (bar)
5. Que Serra (RIP)
6. Mugshots (burger joint)