For true fans of Southern culture, Mississippi is a place unlike any other. Many of the South’s literary, musical, and artistic traditions are rooted here, offering travelers a unique opportunity to deepen their understanding and appreciation of Southern creativity and its cultural impact. From the state’s northern hills to its southernmost barrier islands, Mississippi offers a deeply authentic Southern experience for all travelers.
In the town of Bentonia (about 30 minutes northwest of Jackson), you’ll find the Blue Front Cafe. The Blue Front is the oldest surviving juke joint in Mississippi and, according to some, America. The Blue Front’s proprietor, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes is a GRAMMY-nominated musician and regarded as the last of the Bentonia bluesmen, practicing a distinct and haunting style of Mississippi blues that was popularized by Skip James, Jack Owens, and other Bentonia musicians.
B.B. King is regarded among music critics and fans alike to be one of the most influential blues performers ever. Throughout his career, King was a tremendous ambassador for the music and for his home state of Mississippi. At the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, you can learn about B.B. King’s life, influences, and impact. And, of course, you can see several of his “Lucille” guitars, his Grammys, and even a recreation of his home studio.
Established in 1979, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale is the state’s oldest music museum. Permanent exhibits include the core section of a cabin where Muddy Waters lived while working at Stovall Farms; a “Muddywood” guitar made from salvaged wood from the cabin that was donated by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top; guitars that belonged to John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, and Big Joe Williams; and a piano, shoes, harmonica, and other memorabilia from Charlie Musselwhite.
When it opened in 2016, GRAMMY Museum Mississippi was the first GRAMMY Museum to be built outside of Los Angeles. While the museum is dedicated to a broad spectrum of Mississippi music, highlighting the disproportionate number of GRAMMY winners from Mississippi, the state’s blues legends are well represented in the museum’s displays and interactive exhibits. Look for information about traveling exhibits and live performances on their website.
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, and lived much of his life in Oxford at his home, Rowan Oak. Visitors touring the the Greek Revival home will gain a glimpse into the life of one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists and winner of a Nobel Prize for literature and two Pulitzer Prizes. The highlight of the tour is Faulkner’s office, which displays a typewriter the author used to produce many of his works.
Located near the Lyceum building at the University of Mississippi’s Circle Historic District, the Civil Rights Memorial honors the legacy of James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend the University. The memorial features a statue of Meredith standing next to a limestone portal bearing the words “courage”, “knowledge,” and “opportunity.”
Tupelo, Mississippi, is known around the world as the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Each year, fans of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll flock to the city to attend the Tupelo Elvis Festival and to visit the 14 stops on the Elvis Tupelo Driving Tour. Popular attractions include the modest shotgun shack where Elvis was born, Tupelo Hardware where his first guitar was purchased, and a number of murals and statues commemorating his life in Tupelo.
Despite his name, the great American playwright, Thomas “Tennessee” Williams, was born in Columbus, Mississippi and first lived in a colorful Victorian-style home that now serves as the Columbus Welcome Center. (Fun Fact: The house is not in its original location. It was moved to Main Street in 1993 and restored there.) The home is open for tours Monday through Saturday and staffed with helpful people who can help you make the most of your visit to the area.
The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, aka “The MAX,” offers visitors an entertaining and interactive experience that showcases Mississippi’s cultural legacy and seeks to inspire a new generation of artists through its exhibits and programs. Be sure to check out their calendar before you visit, as The MAX hosts regular events, including opportunities to see noteworthy speakers and musical acts.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum tells the unvarnished stories of the American civil rights movement in Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. Learn about the organized effort to keep segregation in place and landmark events, such as the Freedom Summer, when thousands of Mississippians and out-of-state supporters came together to register black Mississippians to vote. Next door, the Museum of Mississippi History puts this important story in the larger context of the state’s history.
For many in Mississippi, it’s just not the holidays without tamales. In Jackson, the Big Apple Inn, traces its roots back to Mexican immigrant Juan Mora, who first sold tamales out of a cart in 1939. This tradition continues today with Juan’s great-grandson Geno Lee. During the Civil Rights era, the Big Apple’s Farish Street location was frequented by historic figures including Medgar Evers, who had an office above the restaurant, and Fannie Lou Hamer.
The Siege of Vicksburg marked a critical turning point in the American Civil War, with its capture ultimately leading to a Union victory. Today, the Vicksburg National Military Park features 1,325 historic monuments and markers along a 16-mile tour road. The military park also includes the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum, which displays a Union ironclad gunboat and artifacts retrieved from the Yazoo River in 1964.
The Bill Waller Craft Center, in Ridgeland, is home to the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi, a collection of artists who work together to “preserve and promote, educate and encourage, the highest standard of excellence in regional crafts.” The Craft Center showcases the work of these Mississippi artisans and offers a wide variety of handmade items for purchase at their retail store. Regular demonstrations and workshop events are held throughout the year.
The “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George Ohr, is famous for his offbeat personality and his legacy which is alive and well among the thriving art scene of Coastal Mississippi. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art features a large selection of his ceramic work and exhibitions featuring a wide range of visual arts. The distinctive museum complex was designed by the celebrated architect Frank Gehry.
Mary Mahoney’s Old French House is a coastal Mississippi favorite for visitors and locals seeking out the area’s best seafood and steaks. The restaurant, which is located in a home built in 1737 during the French colonial period, has been passed down through three generations of Mahoneys and has served diners (including American presidents, dignitaries, and celebrities) for more than 50 years.