While I had heard that Mississippi has the highest poverty rate around the country, as we drove around the state, we did not see any real problems in the areas that we were driving in. Coming from Alabama, the roads were in good condition and most of the towns we visited seemed to have a busy (if not thriving) commercial area(s). Plus, the cities were in good, clean condition.
Our first major stop in Mississippi had to be the capitol – Jackson - the namesake of one of my children, so we tried to take the standard tour only to find that the legislature was in session and they were hosting a private event. So the tour was a limited, self-guided tour.
We headed to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; it was small but the boys enjoyed it. The state park was right next door and so we stopped for the night.
The next day we headed to Vicksburg National Military Battlefield and really enjoyed the national park. It was a large area and it took many hours to see it all. It consists of a visitor center, a long drive to see specific battle sites and state memorials, a small museum, and an “ironside” river boat, the U.S.S. Cairo. The boys enjoyed it again and between the drive to get to the park and the time at the park, we had to find a campground for the night. We ended up at a nice one and learned that this area was booming due to construction repairs on a nuclear power plant, so we were lucky to find a nice place.
We looked at the town of Vicksburg and it was historic and quaint, then we let the boys get out some early morning energy by walking around and playing at the local park, and we headed down the Natchez Trace Parkway (a national scenic by-way). The Trace is an area that was used for thousands of years by the Native Indians and then by the Europeans settlers who lived in the Ohio River Valley. They would float down their goods on a river float to sell in Natchez or New Orleans (whichever had the better price), then walk back hundreds of miles to their home (some rode horses). The area was used until paddle boats started sailing down, and more importantly, up the Mississippi River. You can still see evidence of the trail due to serious erosion and use. The area also has the second largest Indian mound in the U.S. The mound was most likely used as a burial and ceremonial site. We enjoyed our time on the trace, three days in all, and we didn’t get to see the portion to the north of Jackson.
We ended up in Natchez and Natchez Under the Hill and enjoyed our tour of this area; this area had the Natchez National Historic Park that we visited. Part of the historic area included an antebellum style mansion and we learned about it but it also included the more interesting home of “The Barber of Natchez”. The Barber of Natchez, William Johnson, was in fact a freeman who had been a slave at one time himself. He was the son of a white man who helped secure his freeman status (although, one could always be enslaved again for any infraction). William Johnson actually owned slaves and treated them as any white man would; he wrote extensive diaries that were discovered after his death and his detailed information is the largest written account of a black man owning slaves prior to the Civil War.
We also went to the infamous Forks of the Road, one of the largest slave markets in the country. Slaves were bought and sold like a commodity for as little as $400 per person and up to $1,600 prior to the Civil War. Many people at the time knew it was morally wrong but most thought nothing of it and participated in the sale of other people.
We learned a lot about our history and were ready to leave the area and head to Louisiana…little did we know that we were heading straight into the start of Mardi Gras!