Category: Culture (Page 1 of 7)

Border Patrol Perspicacity: ‘The Line Becomes a River’ by Francisco Cantú

Lately, I’ve been on a nonfiction kick. There’s something about a true story that engages and connects me more than any other genre. It’s a chance to take part in a conversation that’s happening in the world, allowing the reading experience to go beyond me and the book I’m holding.

line becomes a riverOne such conversation I feel like I’m not that knowledgeable about is immigration. I hear a lot of things, but haven’t really tried reading about the topic myself. So when The Line Becomes a River fell into my hands, I knew it was a chance for me to start listening to that conversation more closely.

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border is the true account of Arizona native Francisco Cantú, who served as an agent for the United States Border Patrol from 2008-2012. His retired park ranger mother thought he was crazy when he told her that he’s going to go work at the border, but Cantú is determined to immerse himself in a place he has spent the past few years studying.

The book is structured into three parts. The first two are comprised of vignettes about Cantú’s work with the border patrol, both out in the field and behind a desk. Taken from his journal entries during those years, he writes about rescuing stranded migrants out in the desert, tracking drug smugglers, and researching the Mexican cartels. These snapshots of life along the border paint a vivid picture of a place few really understand.

Cantú’s experience proves that things aren’t always black and white out at the border. The numerous characters he encounters cross between countries with all kinds of intentions, and Cantú often struggles to make sense of his duty to his job and his moral duty. Plagued by strange dreams, he fears losing his humanity in a profession where the line between guilty and innocent is often a thin one.

The third part of the book has the strongest narrative and was what really sealed the story as a winner for me. It follows Cantú after he leaves the Border Patrol and is working at a coffee shop. His friend, José, gets detained coming back to the U.S. after visiting his dying mother in Mexico. José, though an undocumented migrant, is a hard worker with a family and an entire community that rallies to support him during his trial. Cantú offers a realistic and heartbreaking account of what families like José’s go through.

Cantú’s writing is strong. I love how he blends in the history of the border, as well as Spanish dialect and local color to make the narrative more authentic. Cantú is anything but preachy, letting his personal encounters do most of the storytelling, hoping that his internal conflict stirs something in the reader as well.

I really enjoyed Cantú’s interactions with his mother in the book. The daughter of a Mexican immigrant, she acts as a voice of reason and great contrast to the harsh environment that Cantú is being exposed to on a daily basis.

I think we can all relate on some level to Cantú, who at first wants to ignore what happens to people once he rescues them from the desert and delivers them to detention. But, as is the case with his friend, José, it’s not so easy to ignore the outcome once you or a loved one is put in that situation.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about what is happening on the border or anyone who thinks they know. It’s an eye-opening book that humanizes a minority in a tension-filled political climate.

Join the conversation: Francisco Cantú will be signing copies of The Line Becomes a River at Lemuria on Monday, April 9 at 5:00 pm. The Line Becomes a River has been selected for Lemuria’s First Edition Club for Nonfiction Readers.

‘We Were Eight Years in Power’ is a vital addition to nation’s racial conversation

By Jim Ewing. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (October 1)

8 years in powerIn Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book of essays We Were Eight Years in Power (One World), he recalls that he felt at odds with himself when penning the first one for The Atlantic in 2007.

Barack Obama was running for president but, as a black man, was hardly thought then to be a full-on contender. Coates’ feeling of being adrift was shared with young black men and women across the country. They were “lost in a Bermuda triangle of the mind or stranded in the doldrums of America.”

Obama’s election changed that, he writes. But it also changed the nation’s dialogue on race, one that continues with an urgency underscored by the headlines of the day.

The book is composed of the eight essays he wrote for The Atlantic during each of the eight years of the nation’s first black presidency, along with current commentary. But it is Reconstruction in the South that the title of the book refers to, quoting W.E.B. DuBois, that: “If there was one thing… (whites) feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro government.”

With the rise of Donald Trump after a period of “good Negro government,” it can be argued we are witnessing from Washington and much of the country that frame of mind today. It’s manifested in displays by sports figures taking a knee in solidarity against police brutality against blacks, racial profiling, social inequality, disparities in education and opportunity, fueled by a president who finds no qualm in siding with Nazi protesters while calling those who demonstrate against it “sons of bitches.”

Before Obama, the idea of a black president lived as “a kind of cosmic joke,” Coates writes. “White folks, whatever their talk of freedom and liberty, would not allow a black president.” Witness, Emmett Till’s audacity to look at a white woman, the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “turned the other cheek, and they blew it off.”

Lincoln was killed for emancipation, Freedom Riders were beaten for advocating for voting rights, Medgar Evers was shot down in his driveway “like a dog.”

“That a country that once took whiteness as the foundation for citizenship would elect a black president,” Coates writes, “is a victory. But to view this victory as racism’s defeat is to forget the precise terms on which it was secured.”

It encapsulates a paradox: America couldn’t elect “a black man,” but it could elect a qualified man who was black–as long as he didn’t evince blackness.

Coates’ outstanding previous book, Between the World and Me, was as much a plea for understanding race consciousness as a denouncement of racism in America.

The question it raised in 2015: Is this plea heard? By whom? And are the intractable problems of race solvable by a society founded on centuries of racial and economic inequality?

In Power, the pleas are gone. Instead, with its contextualizing commentary, it’s a questioning odyssey throughout the Obama years and now of the fact of racial polarization and misunderstanding that colors all attempts at recognizing progress or reversal. It’s an indictment of a nation where even black citizens who hold conservative, mainstream values are turned away from the party that espouses them because of its open appeals to people who hate them.

Power is an exploration in many ways to explain how a society based on Enlightenment values could ignore its essential white supremacy, that the foundational crimes of this crimes of this country are to somehow be considered mostly irrelevant to its existence, as well as those excluded and pillaged in order to bring those values into practice.

Through troubling to read, the aggregate is a journey of wonder, even when topics are troubling, for the deep mental explorations they offer, often without road map or easy conclusions.

Power is an exemplary, perhaps even vital, addition to the national dialogue on race in America.

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including his latest, Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them.

Call of the Wild: ‘The Stranger in the Woods’ by Michael Finkel

Do you ever think about getting away from the world? Ever contemplate taking a break and relaxing out in the woods by yourself for while? Well, one guy decided to do just that…for 27 years.

stanger in the woodsThe Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel is the true story of the hermit Christopher Knight. In 1986, 20-year-old Knight decided to completely leave society and disappear into the woods of Maine. For the next three decades, Knight lived completely by himself, surviving by pilfering off the summer cabins that surrounded the nearby lake. To the locals, he became known as the North Pond Hermit. It wasn’t until 2013 that a determined resident finally caught him stealing food from the lake’s summer camp, and the hermit and his hideout were revealed.

Okay, so this story, which seems almost too bizarre to be true, is extremely fascinating. Journalist Finkel, after hearing about Knight’s arrest and his strange claim to have been by himself for that many years, began sending letters and eventually visited Knight in jail. By gaining Knight’s trust, Finkel was able to delve further into the mind of the hermit.

Finkel expertly tells this nonfiction tale. He spends each chapter focused on a particular element of Knight’s experience: how he survived, what his camp was like, his stealing escapades, and even the differing opinions of the locals. Woven throughout is Finkel’s personal interactions with Knight. It was interesting to read about Knight trying to adapt and re-enter a society that had changed so much.


What I found most fascinating about this story was how Finkel used outside sources to create a rich discussion of the various types of hermits and why people choose a life of solitude. What’s interesting is how Knight doesn’t feel he quite fits into any particular kind of hermit. Was he trying to make a political statement? Was he on a spiritual or creative quest? No, Knight says, he just felt like doing it.

Finkel also brings in expert opinions to try and identify Knight’s mental state and why he had such a low need for human interaction. Apart from a brief encounter with a hiker in the mid-90s, in which he said a simple “hi,” Knight never talked to a single person for almost 30 years.

hate people

It may be hard to believe that Knight was able to be on his own for so long, that he committed over a thousand burglaries before getting caught, that he never had any serious injuries, or that he was able to survive the brutal winters of Maine without ever lighting a fire. Despite his abnormal tendencies, Knight is actually an intelligent man. He’s definitely someone who questions social norms and is quite open about his beliefs. Though I think Finkel kind of romanticizes Knight a little too much, there is still a lot the reader can learn from his solitary experience. Clearing out the noise and taking in the sounds of nature actually added significantly to Knight’s mind and health. He spent time reading books and simply being.

He was confounded by the idea that passing the prime of your life in a cubicle, spending hours a day at a computer, in exchange for money, was considered acceptable, but relaxing in a tent in the woods was disturbed. Observing the trees was indolent; cutting them down was enterprising. What did Knight do for a living? He lived for a living.

Overall, this book is one I couldn’t put down. If you enjoy true stories or documentaries of strange people, then this is the book for you. Maybe after you read it, you’ll want to go out and live in the woods by yourself for a while, too. But, please, don’t start breaking into people’s homes and stealing their food.

The Night the Lights Went Out: ‘You Will Not Have My Hate’ by Antoine Leiris

You Will Not Have My HateL’amour plus fort que la haine.

Love is stronger than hate.

This is the central theme of Antoine Leiris’s memoir, You Will Not Have My Hate.

On November 13, 2015, a Friday night in Paris, Leiris’s wife, Hélène, was killed by members of an ISIL terror cell. She was enjoying the night at a rock concert at the Bataclan, a beautiful red-and-yellow painted theater in the 11th arrondissement, the heart of Paris, when gunfire erupted across the city. A heartbreaking and terrifying event in and of itself, it is even more heartbreaking to know that people were there on a fun night out after a long week at work; there to listen to music, not expecting anything bad to happen. Not a single person, Parisian or visitor, who decided to attend the concert, or the football match, or any of the restaurants throughout Paris that were attacked, expected to be killed or wounded that night. That is not how life works.

Hélène and Antoine certainly didn’t expect to never see each other again.

Leiris’s book was born from an open letter to the terrorists who besieged the city on that fateful night. He posted the letter to Facebook three days after her death (authentic translation here), where it almost instantly became viral. After inserting his original open letter in the book, he tells the reader he began writing the book the next day. The book chronicles the night his wife died, and the three days following, how he struggles with finding the right words to tell their seventeen-month-old son that his mother has died, how he has to be present for the next few days, taking care of their son as well as making funeral arrangements, when he really wants to crawl into a hole and mourn “the love of his life.” He ends the memoir by saying he and his son will overcome, that they have each other to love and will miss Hélène, but will be okay in time.

Beautifully written in French by Leiris and translated into English by Sam Taylor, the book, although leaving me in tears each time I went to read another chapter, is an incredibly moving account of the night the lights went out in Paris. He writes so openly and unashamedly about his pain and grief that by the end, I felt like I knew him; had met him and his little boy and spoken personally with him about that night and the following days. His book drives home the sentiment echoed by millions each time another city is attacked: love will always conquer hate. Through this book, this message is universal and eternal in a world filled with so much hatred.

Freaky Friday: ‘The Voyeur’s Motel’ by Gay Talese

voyeurs-motelBefore I just dive right into my thoughts on this book, let me share with you a piece from the cover flap of Gay Talese’s book The Voyeur’s Motel:

“On January 7, 1980, in the run-up to the publication of his landmark bestseller Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Gay Talese received an anonymous letter from a man in Colorado. “Since learning of your long awaited study of coast-to-coast sex in America,” the letter began, “I feel I have important information that I could contribute to its contents or to contents of a future book.”

This anonymous letter was written by Gerald Foos, a motel owner in Denver, Colorado. What Foos went on to explain to Talese was pretty astonishing: Foos had purchased this motel to satisfy his voyeuristic desires and had built an “observation platform” underneath the roof of his motel. He installed “vents” near the foot of the bed into motel rooms in order to watch and listen to his guests. Foos writes, “The advantageous placement of the vent will permit an excellent opportunity to viewing and also hearing discussions of the individual subjects.”

Gerald Foos kept journals for around 15 years (between 1960-1980) and included almost every detail that he found important or interesting. Yes, there is quite a bit of detailed information dealing with sexual encounters of Foos’s unknowing guests. But, Foos really seemed to think of himself as a researcher of American society and sexuality.

He gathered statistics on different matters, such as the effects of the Vietnam War on sexual relationships, or relationships in general. The motel was located near a type of “half-way house” for men who had just arrived back injured from Vietnam. There were a few occasions when Foos witnessed and recorded men who were either paralyzed or had lost a limb in the war, and that injury’s effects on their sexual encounters with either wives or lovers.

Foos recorded the effects of the desegregation of American society in these relationships, as well. He noted that, before the late 60s and early 70s, white women would wait in the car for their African American counterpart to just grab the keys, and would not go inside together. Later, both subjects would enter together and go to the front desk to check in.

I wish I could tell you more about some of the encounters Gerald Foos recorded in his journals…but I don’t think they are very appropriate for this blog. What I will say is that Gerald seemed to think that the movie Deep Throat had to do with the rise in his guests participating in one particular sex act and that men of the 1960s foos-filesweren’t great at sex, and could really care less if their wives were satisfied–gender roles at their finest.

The Voyeur’s Motel is an amazing work of narrative journalism which I could not put down. The majority of this book is from Foos’ actual journals and notes which were extremely fascinating. But….what a freak…right? Right? I can’t decide. Everyone is curious, but Gerald Foos took it to the extreme, and I thank him for it.

Nonfiction paperback picks for summer 2016

It’s that time of year. Spring is giving way to summer, school is letting out, and people are hitting the highway for vacations. It’s a perfect time to squeeze in some time for the reading that you’ve been meaning to do. I would like to recommend some nonfiction books, all out in paperback, that I think will be just the thing. They’re lightweight for packing, affordable, and hold up a lot better than your average e-reader when exposed to sand and water. So, with that in mind, let’s get to the recommendations…


[Both of these books were released in hardcover just last year, and they are both easy to read (and finish) books about cultural phenomena.]

Jacket (5)So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson is the fey-voiced Welshman you might have heard on This American Life. He is also the author of The Pyschopath Test, among other books. Here he examines the concept of public shaming, specifically in the form of mass Twitter vigilantism. Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” probably wasn’t anticipating the mass-volume payload delivery system that social media provides. Ronson thoughtfully examines the implications of a justice system that started with good intentions but is often used mercilessly against private citizens with momentary lapses of good judgment. Just keep reading past the section about Jonah Lehrer, his first case study (and not his most sympathetic).

Jacket (6)The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

Man, the 90s were a weird time, filled with unwarranted optimism and unchecked consumerism. The story revolves on its axis of Ty Warner, the founder and CEO of the company that produced the Beanie Babies, a pretty great toy maligned in our memory by the mania that accompanied our desire to “collect them all.” The whole tale is outrageous and engaging from start to finish and a valuable reminder of the foibles of human nature.


[Both of these books are not quite new in paperback and are a little longer (in part because they are augmented by fascinating footnotes), but they are absorbing narrative reads to keep your mind sharp over the summer.]

Jacket (7)Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

I must admit, I have always been in love with New Orleans. And what a fantastic subtitle this book has—if that doesn’t get you interested in history, what will? This account of New Orleans from the 1890s to 1920 weaves together the narratives of red-light district “mayor” Tom Anderson, conflicted brothel madam Josie Arlington, coronet player and jazz progenitor Buddy Bolden, a mysterious ax murderer, and many more. It explains how myth and reality, culture and class divide, hospitality and violence, have always existed in the city that care ostensibly forgot. It was only by coincidence that the beating heart of this tale, the red-light district Storyville, got its name from one subsequently-embarrassed city councilman (named Sidney Story) who was just trying to segregate sin from the more respectable parts of the city. But, trust me, after reading this whole book, you could wonder how the whole city isn’t called that.

Jacket (8)The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

I’m not sure where you have to be in your chemistry education to be in the proper range between being able to understand it and also learning new things, but if you remember chemistry okay from high school, you should be fine. From his charming first anecdote about his mother spearing mercury droplets from broken thermometers to blowing my mind with how elements are made by stars in a process called stellar nucleosynthesis, this is a clear, exciting, and engaging look at the fundamental stuff the universe is made of that doesn’t forget to give things a human touch. Ask for a second bookmark to keep a place for the many wonderful footnotes you’ll be referring to constantly.


Jacket (9)Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

If you are reading a book blog from an independent book store in Jackson, Mississippi, I can only imagine that you might have heard of this book already. If you haven’t investigated this local literary phenomenon for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. Grant takes a probing, often hilarious, always empathetic, occasionally baffled look at life in the Mississippi delta. It’s got hunting, blues, and blood feuds mixed in with serious examinations of race, class, prisons, and education. It’s not so much that Grant discovers what native Mississippians don’t already know about our state; it’s how he elucidates the problems with a critical eye while still finding plenty of causes for celebration. It’s bound to be a Southern classic for a long time to come, and now is as good a time as any to read all about it for yourself.

Your spring cleaning motivation

May is here, and it’s not too late to get a start on spring cleaning! The task can be pretty daunting, but I’ve got some great books that will inspire and give you the push you need to get rid of the junk that’s cluttering up your homes and your lives for good.

JacketFor those of you who are ready to get serious about “out with the old,” pick up a copy of the acclaimed The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. You’ve heard about it. You’ve seen it. You’ve wondered if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Well, let me tell you, this book really is life-changing if you give it a chance. Kondo’s method, also known as KonMari, is all about surrounding yourself with the things that bring you joy. In fact, that’s the key question. Kondo asks you to gather your things, take each one in your hand, and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” It may sound ridiculous, but it actually works.

Having done the KonMari method myself, I found that collecting all my belongings from each category (clothes, then books, etc.) made me realize how much I actually owned (and it was shocking). Kondo’s take on letting go of the items that make us feel weighed down, guilty, or simply don’t inspire us is definitely eye-opening.

I’m not going to lie—you have to take this book with a grain of salt. It’s pretty Japanese, so any mention of “waking up” or “being kind” to your belongings needs to be considered light-heartedly (although Kondo is dead serious about verbally thanking your stuff). I didn’t follow her method exactly, rather altered it to fit my lifestyle and personal preferences. But it has definitely changed the way I view my possessions and what I really need in my life. “You will never use spare buttons” is something I didn’t know I needed to hear until I read this book. It takes time and work, but trust me when I say that this method is totally freeing. My new space definitely attests to that. Crazy as it sounds, Kondo was right that tidying can actually be fun.

Jacket (1)Another recent read that really helped transform my perspective on material things is The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify by Francine Jay. This book not only goes over how to de-clutter, organize, and maintain each room of the house, it also focuses on mindset. I really appreciated Jay’s discussion about our consumeristic culture and why we feel the need to purchase so much. After reading Kondo’s book, I was happy to see a more American take on materialism and why we as a society have come to equate stuff with success. She also encourages people to be responsible and educated consumers who are contributing less to the problems with waste and unfair labor conditions in our world. This is definitely a great read for those who are looking to not only to decrease the amount of things in their home, but who also want to decrease their ecological footprint. Jay’s down-to-earth style and relatable examples make this an enjoyable and motivating read.

Jacket (2)Lastly, for those hardcore minimalists out there, take a look at Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending up with More by Erin Boyle. This book is all about getting down to those bare essentials and understanding that more stuff doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness. Filled with advice about how to downsize your things, as well as personal stories and projects, Boyle challenges readers to embrace a simpler life. The images of clean, crisp rooms are gorgeous and inspiring. However, I’ll give you a heads up and say that when Boyle means simple, she really means simple. Don’t be surprised to find photos of bare walls and surfaces, or entire rooms empty except for a bed and maybe a single flower in a vase. Whether this fits your lifestyle or not, Boyle definitely makes you consider what is really necessary in a home and how you can save money and time that is usually poured into your home and use it for more enriching experiences.

Happy spring cleaning!

2015, I’d like to kiss you on the mouth.

dbdb37f2-a00d-4114-b5d6-1e42a0bc65cfThis year was a doozy. I consumed everything from nonfiction about animal consciousness to the modern classic Fates and Furies by Lemuria’s new best friend, Lauren Groff. I can’t even get into the second paragraph without telling you that The Godfather was hands down my favorite read of the year. You can read my blog about it here. I had the chance to sit down and talk to Garth Risk Hallberg about his meteoric rise in the literary world. Jon Meacham made me cry.

I personally made the move from the hub that is Lemuria’s front desk to the quieter fiction room, where I now am elbows deep in the mechanics of our First Editions Club; and am coincidentally even more in love with fiction than I was before. My TBR pile has skyrocketed from about 10 books to roughly 30 on my bedside table. It’s getting out of control and I love it.

[Sidebar: This year, I fell even more in love with graphic novelsNimona surprised us all by making one of the short-lists for the National Book Award, and we were so pleased to see it get the recognition that it deserves. Go Noelle Stevenson! You rule!]

As a bookstore, we were able to be on the forefront of some of the most influential books of 2015 (see: Between the World and Me– when we passed that advance reader copy around, the rumblings were already beginning). Literary giants Salman Rushdie, John Irving, and Harper Lee put out new/very, very old works to (mostly) thunderous applause, and debut novelists absolutely stunned and shook up the book world. (My Sunshine Away, anyone? I have never seen the entire staff band behind a book like that before. We were/are obsessed.) Kent Haruf’s last book was published; it was perfect, and our hearts ache in his absence.

We marched through another Christmas, wrapping and reading and recommending and eating enough cookies to make us sick. We hired fresh new faces, we said goodbye to old friends, we cleaned up scraggly, hairy sections of the store and made them shiny and new. We had the privilege of having a hand in Mississippi’s first ever book festival. We heaved in the GIANT new Annie Leibovitz book, and spent a few days putting off work so that we could all flip through it. In short, this year has been anything but uneventful; it’s been an adventure. So here’s to 2016 absolutely knocking 2015 out of the park.

Read on, guys.



Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: Willie’s House

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Chris Ray

We always felt that the house chose us as much as we chose it. Carolyn and I had been to a couple of JoAnne’s parties, the last one being the celebration of the movie release of My Dog Skip after Willie died. I was always struck with how real their home felt, surrounded by genuine laughter, someone playing the piano, curiosities and ephemera, and of course, a library’s worth of books.

When JoAnne decided that the house was too big for her to keep up, I believe that she not only wanted to find someone to buy the house, but also to honor it. Which brings up an interesting challenge: how do you make a home yours, while honoring those who came before you?

We’ve tried to do both – and I think that Willie would be happy to see that the cats from the neighborhood still hang out in the crawl space. Curious literary fans still drive by slowly. There are dozens of assorted balls and sports gear scattered about the house, garage, and yard. In fact, our son John keeps a collection of baseballs in the same small closet where Willie kept his. And the books, my gosh, the books. They are everywhere.

We have Willie’s highway map of Yazoo County framed upstairs and a photo downstairs of Willie taken by his son, David Rae. And every now and then, we will find some odd treasure that Willie had hidden or misplaced. I think Willie would like the fact that our neighbors, Governor Winter and Dick Molpus, still tell Willie stories every time we see them. Dick told me recently that Willie would walk down to his house every Christmas to say hello as part of his “once-a-year exercise.”

But I don’t think Willie would want his former home to be a shrine. Or something too precious. I think he would appreciate that the paint is peeling here and there and there’s a patch where we just can’t get grass to grow. I think he’d be happy to see it alive, with the same kind of love and laughter that you felt and heard when he lived there.

To order a copy of Jackson: photographs by Ken Murphy , call Lemuria Books at 601.366.7619 or order online here

Let’s Talk Jackson Guest Post: My dream of reliving the Farish Street of my youth

This blog originally ran last year just before the release of Lemuria’s book Jackson: Photographs by Ken Murphy. We’ve been so grateful for the outpouring of love and hope for our great city that you’ve shared with us over the past year and a half; and we’re enormously proud of this book. Our hope is that every time you flip through its pages, you’re reminded of the Jackson you have loved, and join us in dreaming to achieve a great future for our home.

Written by Jimmie E. Gates, political writer/columnist at The Clarion-Ledger

When I was in my teens, one of my biggest thrills was coming to Farish Street in downtown Jackson.

It was the sight and sounds of a hustling mecca of black life. There were snappy dressed females with their hats. There were men dressed in classy suits, which made you think of The Apollo Theater or the old Cotton Club in Harlem. We had our Crystal Place on Farish Street, and for good measure, we had our Alamo Theater, which was a movie theater. I will never forget going to the Alamo Theater to watch Bruce Lee movies, Godzilla versus the Three-Headed Monster, and most of all watching actress Pam Grier in films.

Those were the days for me growing up. Farish Street was like a whole new world to me. There would be Mr. Armstrong selling Jet Magazines on Farish Street and vendors selling roasted peanuts in small bags and other items. The shoe shine guy, “Bear Trap,” would stay busy; there was a bakery/donut shop, but my favorite was the ice cream plant. Whenever we would be on Farish Street, we would always go by the ice cream plant. The ice cream man, whose name escapes me today, would give us ice cream bars. He would always be dressed in a white uniform and wearing a hat to match.

We would always come to Farish Street and shop. Although Farish Street was the mecca of black life in the 60s and 70s, many of the clothing stores and shoe stores were Jewish-owned.

I will never forget my Farish Street days. I don’t know when Farish Street began to deteriorate, but it probably occurred after the first mall opened in the city. Jackson Mall opened in 1969 followed by  Metrocenter in 1978. Farish Street stores and other stores began to leave the downtown area for the malls.

We longed for the bygone days of our youths; sometimes wondering if we can recreate those years.

I pass the empty shell of the buildings lining Farish Street today wondering if the hustle and bustle of the street will ever live again.

Decades have gone by since Farish Street was the place to go. There have been talk about reclaiming the area as an entertainment district, but the talk hasn’t materialized into returning Farish Street to its heydays.

I know others have their own fond memories of places and things in Jackson that were once special to them. Farish Street was that place for me.

There was a song by the late Luther Vandross  called “Dance With My Father” that was one of my favorites. The lyrics were based upon Vandross’ childhood  memories of  his late father and mother often dancing together. Vandross knew his dream could never come true when he wrote the song because his father was deceased. We all have our dreams; the dreams that would make us happy. Seeing Farish Street alive again with life and vitality would be a dream come true for me.


Ken Murphy will be joining us in the store all day today (December 23) and will be signing copies of all of his books!

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