Jackson, Mississippi just might be the most misunderstood city in America. Some people wouldn’t even know to spend 24 hours in Jackson or that there are tons of fun things to do in Jackson MS. I come from New York City, and a lot of my fellow Yankees think that Jackson is just full of rednecks and free of culture.
In fact, Jackson, Mississippi is about 80 percent African-American. The city’s mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, has promised to make Jackson the most radical city on the planet.
A day with things to do in Jackson MS will introduce you to some amazing food (this is the South, y’all) but it will also teach you about aspects of American history about which no person should be ignorant. The most recent tourism figures I could find for Jackson say that the city gets about 3 million visitors a year. Let’s get that number up together!
24 Hours: Things to Do in Jackson MS
Where to Stay?
Jackson, Mississippi’s downtown has many excellent museums and historic buildings, as you will see during our 24 hours of the best things to do in Jackson MS. However, it doesn’t have the greatest streets in the world for walking, and it’s not an incredibly safe city for walking around at night. (During the day time, I felt perfectly safe.)
That’s why I recommend staying in the super convenient Hilton Garden Inn Jackson Downtown. It has an excellent location, and it’s in a beautiful old building. Plus the staff is incredibly friendly. You won’t regret spending your 24 hours with the best things to do in Jackson MS here!
24 Hours: Things to Do in Jackson MS
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Mississippi can get very hot, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours: Things to Do in Jackson MS
Morning: Smith Robertson Museum
The Smith Robertson Museum is a small museum dedicated to the history of African-Americans in Mississippi. It is located in the former Smith Robertson School, which is where famous African-American author Richard Wright went to school. There are two newer and larger museums dedicated to Mississippi history in Jackson: the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which I will explore in a later itinerary. But I still recommend the Smith Robertson Museum because the idiosyncratic collection and personal attention from the staff can’t exactly be replicated anywhere else.
24 Hour Treasure: Mississippi Farmers Market
Nobody wants to visit a museum on an empty stomach, especially on a sweltering Mississippi morning. That’s a good way to pass out. If you’re spending 24 hours in Jackson on a Saturday morning, you can’t miss the chance to get breakfast at the Mississippi Farmers Market.
The locals who work there are almost disturbingly friendly. Everyone will ask if you live in Jackson, if you are planning to live in Jackson, and if you are enjoying your stay in Jackson, in that order. People will express strong hopes to “see you again next week”. Even if you protest that you don’t live anywhere near Mississippi, they will not believe you.
This being the South, you can’t pass up the chance to have freshly scrambled eggs on a warm biscuit that will literally break into pieces in your hand because it’s so full of succulent lard. I might consider moving to Jackson if it meant I got to eat this biscuit every morning.
The Smith Robertson Museum generally opens at 10 o’clock, so it should be ready to greet us. Prepare yourself for…
Three Tragic Facts: black History in Mississippi
1) what’s the history of slavery in mississippi?
African-American history in Mississippi begins with the slave trade. Most enslaved people brought from Africa to Mississippi came from the West Coast of Africa. Their contributions to the culture of the Gulf Coast can be seen in everything from the food to the music, the literature and the architecture.
Although Mississippi stopped practicing slavery after the Civil War, the state did not officially ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery until…1995. That’s not a typo. Most of the other Southern states ratified the 13th Amendment back in 1865.
2) what was life like for african-americans in ms?
The Great Migration is the period, mostly during the first half of the 20th century, when African-Americans left the South to find opportunity in other parts of the country. The Smith Robertson Museum has two different rooms of artifacts from this time period. One contains objects belonging to people from Mississippi who started their own businesses or found work in places like New York City and Chicago.
The other exhibit contains items that belonged to people who remained in Mississippi. There’s very little signage, so you have to try to interpret the meaning of each object on your own. What might make someone stay in Mississippi instead of going to a state without Jim Crow laws?
I heard the docent tell a group of older guests that she remembered a time when black citizens were not allowed to head past Farish Street into the white part of Jackson. Some of the group nodded their heads to indicate that they remembered this time as well. Farish Street was the center of the black community in Jackson during the mid-20th century. Some people called it the black mecca of Mississippi.
3) who is medgar evers?
Medgar Evers is one of the most famous Civil Rights leaders associated with Mississippi. (The airport in Jackson is named after him.) He was assassinated in the 1960s by a racist member of the White Citizens Council. I feel it should go without saying that someone who would be a member of something called the White Citizens Council is a racist.
The Smith Robertson has a replica of Medgar Evers’ front porch, which is where he was gunned down in cold blood. His wife, Myrlie, remains a Civil Rights activist, and she spoke at President Obama’s second inauguration. If you’re interested in learning more about the subject, there is a mediocre movie called Ghosts of Mississippi about the trial of Evers’ killer. But it would probably just be better for you to come down to Jackson and visit the Smith Robertson museum for yourself.
24 Hours: Things to Do in Jackson MS
Afternoon: Explore Jackson
Downtown Jackson is definitely on the slow side on the weekends. It’s the capital, so a lot of the people who show up for work during the week don’t come into the city on the weekend. (Just to illustrate this point, Jackson is literally the only city I have heard of whose tourist information center is open on all weekdays and closed on the weekends.) However, whether you’re finding things to do in Jackson MS on a busy Tuesday or a sleepy Saturday, you’ll find there’s plenty to see. I’ll get you started with….
approximately top 5: things to do in Jackson MS
1) Mississippi Museum of Art
I bet you thought Mississippi didn’t even have an art museum, Internet Stranger! Well, get your preconceived notions of what folks in old MS are like out of your head. The Mississippi Museum of Art has a fabulous collection of the creative wonders of Mississippi. It also has a charming art garden and an adorable cafe in which you can take lunch.
My two favorite artists at the Mississippi Museum of Art were William Hollingsworth and Hystercine Rankin. Hollingsworth was born a white man in Jackson in 1910. He painted scenes of African-American life during segregated Mississippi, preserving the memory of those who might otherwise have been forgotten by a place like the Mississippi Museum of Art. Tragically, he suffered from depression his whole life and committed suicide at the age of 34. Usually I try to find a joke in every situation, but I feel like the bleakness of Hollingsworth’s life has defeated me there.
24 Hour Treasure: Hystercine Rankin Quilts
Ms. Rankin was a master quilter from Southern Mississippi. (She passed away in 2010, when she was in her early 80s.) She specialized in memory quilts depicting events from her childhood. The quilt shown above, “Baptism in Crow Creek”, shows children being baptized in the river, which is not an unusual practice in rural communities in the South.
2) Old Capitol Museum
As you can probably guess, the Old Capitol Museum is dedicated to the history of the first capitol building in Jackson. The first capital of Mississippi was actually Natchez, which we will visit tomorrow. Eventually, Natchez was considered to be too far south, so they moved the capital to Jackson, which has a more central location.
Most of the rooms in the museum are dedicated to laws that were enacted in the capitol building. My favorite law was the Married Women’s Property Act of 1839, which made Mississippi the first state in the United States to allow married women to own property.
In the first year following the Civil War, Mississippi spent 1/5th of the state’s budget on prosthetic limbs for men who had been injured in combat.
The top floor of the museum contains portraits of famous people from or associated with Mississippi. Above is Richard Wright, whose school we visited earlier today. But Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has his portrait hanging here too. (He was from Kentucky, but he served as Senator from Mississippi before the Civil War.)
3) Go on a historical stroll
Now that the museuming is done for the day, feel free to explore some of Jackson’s architecture. The Old Capitol Museum informed me that Greek Revival architecture was quite popular in Jackson during the 1800s. Many wealthy Southern gentlemen liked to think of themselves as heirs to the Greek tradition. They considered themselves like Greek gentleman: a wealthy, educated class whose lifestyle was supported by enslaved people doing the work for them. It’s hard to wrap my head around so much ideology being mixed up with a simple white column.
You can also stop by the current capitol. Even if it’s closed, you can see signs telling about the Capitol Rally that took place here in 1964. The rally was in protest of the non-fatal shooting of Civil Rights activist James Meredith in Mississippi. Meredith was the first black student admitted to the University of Mississippi, aka “Ole Miss”.
Jackson is also home to the charming Millsaps College campus. Millsaps is a small liberal arts college, but it does consistently well in the rankings of Southern colleges. And where you find college students you’ll also find…
4) Deep South Pops
That’s right! Jackson is a college town, so it’s going to have it’s very own hipster coffeehouse/Popsicle shop. Nothing beats a cold Deep South Pop on a sweltering Mississippi afternoon. The flavors change daily, but my strawberry black pepper combo was just the oddball concoction to cool me off.
Fondren is the most famous neighborhood in Jackson. Many of the buildings date to the 1950s and 60s. Walking around, I felt like I’d been sent to the 1950s scenes in Back to the Future. In fact, many parts of the movie The Help were filmed here because there are so many historic buildings. The neighborhood is officially on the National Registry of Historic Places, which means Fondren will have to be preserved in this state until the end of all recorded time. Or the end of the National Parks Service. I hope the former comes before the latter.
Unfortunately some of the shops close kind of early in this neighborhood, but even if you arrive after 5 PM, you can always sneak into the Sneaky Beans coffee shop and people watch. I suggest getting one of their weird flavors like my “butter beer latte” pictured above. Unless Jackson is experiencing a freakish cold snap, you’re going to want it iced.
24 Hour Tip
It’s easy to take an Uber back to Downtown Jackson for dinner. My Uber driver was a chatty fellow from Yemen. I asked him how he liked Jackson and he announced that it was, “MUCH BETTER than Yemen.” So I encourage Jackson to use that as its new tourism slogan. Jackson, Mississippi: MUCH BETTER than Yemen.
24 Hours: Things to Do in Jackson MS
Evening: Dinner at Parlor Market
Eating is one of the best things to do in things to do in Jackson MS, and I recommend the Parlor Market for dinner. As much as I liked Jackson, I wouldn’t recommend walking around Downtown Jackson at night. However, it’s easy to drive to our dinner destination. Or just do what I did and stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is only a couple of blocks away from Parlor Market.
Like seemingly everything else in Jackson, Parlor Market has a tragic backstory. It was the brainchild of a chef named Craig Noone. He wanted the restaurant to showcase Southern cuisine. In fact, the name Parlor Market comes from the grocery store that used to be located in the same building. However, Noone never lived to see his dream because he was killed in a car accident in 2011. As sad as this story is, I think it’s beautiful that people kept Noone’s restaurant dream alive. How many people love us enough to help us live our dreams posthumously?
Parlor Market offers a tasting menu, which I strongly recommend because you get to try more types of food this way. I’ll get you started with…
approximately top 5: parlor market
1) Oysters Rockefeller
The first course was a decadent Oysters Rockefeller, which are oysters broiled with butter, spinach, and breadcrumbs. This dish is a nod to one of the earlier businesses housed in this location: an oyster bar. I bet you thought Mississippi didn’t even know what an Oysters Rockefeller is, Internet Stranger! Stop being so judgey!
2) Southern Asian fusion
The next dish was pork cheeks with kimchi grits and pimento cheese wontons. Adding grits and pimento cheese to something is the easiest way to Southern-ify it. This girl is not complaining, though! Adding grits and pimento cheese to something is also the easiest way to make it delicious.
3) Softshell Crab
The next course was a delicate softshell crab fried with asparagus and artichoke hearts. I was a tad disappointed to learn that the asparagus and artichoke hearts had not been fried. I’m not sure it’s actually legal to serve non-fried vegetables in the South. However, this dish more than made up for the disappointment of fresh vegetables with the crab. I feel so vicious and primal eating a whole softshell crab, legs and all. I imagine this is what my cat feels like when it tears into a mouse or one of my slippers.
4) Pork Chops and Apples
The main course of the tasting menu was a pork chop with green apple and plantains. Possibly the most authentically Southern part of this dish was serving this big ol’ pork chop as one course in a tasting menu. (Please keep in mind that both my parents are Southerners for any Southern readers out there offended by my gentle ribbing of Southern foodways.)
Of course, the actually most authentic part is the plantains, which were brought to North America by enslaved people bringing the plant over from Africa. Plantains didn’t catch on in Southern cuisine the way foods like collard greens and okra did, but I appreciate their inclusion in the menu as a nod to the strong African influence on Southern food.
After the pork cheek, the dessert was my favorite course. It was a kind of deconstructed S’mores. There was a chocolate mousse served with a graham cracker crust and lashings of marshmallow fluff on the top. I have no deep thoughts about this dessert. It was very delicious. I ate it. The end.
That’s 24 Hours: Things to Do in Jackson MS
What do you think are the best things to do in Jackson MS? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Jackson? Does everything in Jackson have a tragic backstory? And would it take 1.21 Gigawatts of electricity to send you to Fondren? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with things to do in Jackson MS. If you have another 24 hours in Mississippi, try this day trip to Vicksburg and Natchez!