For anyone who embarks on a trip along the Civil Rights Trail looking to better understand the civil rights movement, perhaps one of the most overlooked but telling places is Jackson, Mississippi’s Farish Street. Sitting just north of downtown Jackson, Farish Street was once a thriving African-American neighborhood known as “Little Harlem”. By the early 1900s, it had become the center for African-American life in Jackson, where black-owned businesses, physicians, banks, nightclubs, and stores served the city’s segregated black citizens. Farish Street later became a hub for Jackson’s Civil Rights movement and activists, with Medgar Evers, field secretary of the NAACP, having his office there. The Farish Street Baptist Church hosted voter registration workshops in the 1960s and held the first mass demonstrations in Jackson.
As Jackson began to desegregate, areas that were once off limits to Jackson’s black residents slowly became more accessible. With that, Jackson’s Africa American community started to eat and shop in area’s outside of Farish Street – areas that previously had been off limits to anyone whose skin color was not white. With this, Farish Street began its slow but drastic and ironic decline.
Farish Street today
Today, the stories and images of a bustling Farish Street are hard to imagine. What was once a packed neighborhood serving its local community is now an empty few blocks. The stores with their vibrant store fronts have been replaced with boarded—up windows and empty sidewalks. The few businesses that continue to operate on Farish Street today are committed in their determination to revive this historic neighborhood known for its great food, recording studios and live music. It was at the Alamo Theater on Farish Street that Dorothy Moore (Misty Blues) started her musical career at the age of 12. Over the years the Alamo hosted performing artists such as B.B King and Nat King Cole. Today the Alamo still stands, lovingly restored, hosting performances and a testimony to the vibrancy of Farish Street.
One of the oldest of those businesses is The Big Apple Inn run by Geno Lee and his family.
In 1930’s, Juan Mora or “Big John” came to Jackson from Mexico and began a small business selling tamales from his cart along Farish Street. In 1939 Mora opened his first store front on Farish Street called the Big Apple Inn, selling his tamales along with hot dogs, hamburgers and “smokes”. Today Mora’s great-grandson Geno Lee runs the business, still located on Farish Street. After all these years, The Big Apple Inn still attracts diners to Farish Street, one of the only businesses showing life, serving up their famous and beloved Pig-Ear sandwiches.
Pig ear sandwich
The origin story of the sandwich is itself one of change and adaptation, something we all find ourselves dealing with in today’s extraordinary situation. Shortly after opening the Big Apple Inn, Geno’s great-grandfather Mora, was offered a box of rubbery pig ears. Mora decided to take the pig ears being thrown out by his butcher and experiment with them. After much trial and error, Mora came up with a method of boiling the pig ears for two days, making them tender and perfect for sandwiches.
Today, those same pig ear sandwiches are what draw people to the Big Apple Inn, where you can get a pig ear sandwich for $1.50 a piece, slathered with slaw, chili sauce, and mustard. Indeed, one Monday morning recently, a line could be seen outside the shop. Some of those in line had driven over 40 miles for an order of Pig Ear sandwiches.
If your stomach (or brain) can’t cope with the idea of a pig’s ear, you can always try Gino’s “smokes”. These ground sausage sandwiches are equally delicious but somehow, a lot easier on the mind.
Although one might not be able to tell from the outside, the Big Apple Inn is one of the several signs of hope for preserving the historical Farish Street. Another place that should never be missed is Frank Jones Corner, equally as committed to revitalizing Farish Street.
If you are in Jackson over a weekend you must head over to Frank Jones Corner, after midnight. There is a nominal cover charge but well worth it to hear some of the best local musicians performing. We highly recommend the locally made pineapple vodka. Don’t be fooled by the exterior. Just like the Big Apple Inn, its an interior full of soul where the music transcends skin color. Musicians like Jesse Robinson and Sherman Lee Dillon often perform.
Jackson may not be the first place you think of going in tracing the Civil Rights Movement but rethink that. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened in 2017 and tackles its topic with unflinching, unapologetic rigor. To understand the movement you must understand the work of Medgar Evers whose NAACP office was on Farish Street. With permission you can visit his home and hear his extraordinary story. And don’t miss the music. Contact us to tour Malaco Records, one of America’s foremost labels in the fields of southern soul, blues, and gospel. Founded in 1967, it was the first state-of-the-art recording facility in Mississippi. The label attained national stature with the success of Dorothy Moore’s “Misty Blue” (1976), Z.Z. Hill’s “Down Home Blues” (1982), and other records by the Jackson Southernaires, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Latimore, and Johnnie Taylor.
In Jackson you see empty streets but know that there is a vibrant energy in those streets that is committed to providing an eclectic, delicious cuisine and a rich musical tradition and, with time, a thriving business environment with a strong sense of community. Visit Jackson.