Known as the “Birthplace of the Blues,” Mississippi is a state full of unique places to visit, including gorgeous Gulf Coast beaches and cities with small-town charm. A road trip from Memphis, Tennessee, through the Mississippi Delta, with stops in Jackson and Clarksdale, provides visitors the chance to learn about the region’s contributions to American music, explore its intense Civil Rights history and, of course, eat pie, because what’s a trip south without pie?
1. Delta Blues Museum
The Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of the Blues, an American art form. And the funky, friendly town of Clarksdale is the home of the Delta Blues Museum. I especially loved hearing snippets of music from Mississippi artists like Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, and Sam Cooke.
But we also enjoyed learning about Blues greats we didn’t know. And seeing guitars, performing outfits, video clips, interviews, performance outfits. The museum even has the log cabin Muddy Waters lived in on a Mississippi plantation. Also, the museum has live performances and other events. So check its calendar.
Read More: 20+ Best Road Trips Through the Southeast US
2. Food in Clarksdale
We visited Clarksdale for the Delta Blues Museum. But we could have visited for the food – and desserts – at Yazoo Pass Restaurant. Yum. My husband and I gobbled up the Kentucky Derby Pie and the Key Lime Pie. And we were glad we stopped at Meraki Coffee & Roastery for their lemon pound cake before the next leg of our Mississippi road trip.
3. Civil Rights Museum
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson is brilliant. This must-see museum is worth a trip to Mississippi. The Museum centers on stories of civil rights activists in Mississippi, from WWII to the 1970’s. First, it gives a historical context. Like the names of people lynched, and the supposed “reasons.” Then, the Museum weaves stories using video, audio of interviews and singing, a life-sized jail cell, photos, and artifacts.
Inspiring ordinary people at the Civil Rights Museum
Rather than famous leaders, the Museum focuses on the bravery of ordinary people. Like the individual organizers of protests, sit-ins, voter registration, and economic boycotts. And on the consequences they faced, like jail, threats, and violence. Activists like Fannie Lou Hamer fired and evicted for registering to vote. But who went on to found a new political party.
No sugarcoating, but warnings.
The Museum doesn’t shrink from our country’s brutal history. And its artistic installations can be emotionally difficult. For example, in a tiny alcove, I saw a video of flames. Then, I was shocked when an image of a real Mississippi lynching appeared on the alcove wall. And text explaining who the mob had murdered. Suddenly, I realized the flame symbolized how mobs burned people alive. And I was alone in the flames. While deeply moving, I appreciated that the Museum has warnings to let visitors opt out of graphic images. Like the mutilated face of lynching victim Emmett Till.
I liked that the last exhibit at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum focuses on the future. The Museum shows visitors’ faces and their responses to questions, like suggestions for how to talk about race. And I left the Museum feeling inspired and energized. Also, while we did not take a guided tour of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, another SheBuysTravel contributor did.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The Civil Rights Museum is emotionally intense. We needed a break after 2 hours. So we crossed the street for a delicious lunch on the sunny patio of Old Capitol Inn. After lunch, we went back to the museum.
4. Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home
At the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, we learned about Medgar Evers, the brave Mississippi NAACP field organizer. Evers organized boycotts, registered voters, and investigated Klan violence. He went undercover as a sharecropper to identify witnesses to Emmett Till’s murder.
At the Civil Rights Museum, video of Evers’ powerful speeches helped me understand why Evers threatened Mississippi white supremacists. And why they assassinated him in 1963.
So we wanted to learn more at the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home in Jackson, now a museum, maintained by the National Parks Service as a National Monument. Evers was assassinated in the driveway of the house, where he lived with his family. Unfortunately, the museum was closed on the day we visited. However, on our Mississippi road trip, we stopped at the house, and read the historical marker. And appreciated the opportunity to pay our respects.
Call 601-345-7211 to reserve a tour, Tuesday-Saturday 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.
5. Smith Robertson Museum
This Museum and Cultural Center in Jackson is in the formerly segregated school of novelist Richard Wright. We thoroughly enjoyed its interactive exhibit called Who Was Medgar Evers, about the Mississippi civil rights activist.
While the exhibit was aimed at kids, it is thoughtful and realistic. For example, the exhibit shows soap and a jar of beans to illustrate the impossible questions Mississippi used to prevent Blacks from voting, like “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”
And without being gruesome, Who Was Medgar Evers did not sugarcoat history. It tells the story of the lynching of an Evers family friend, and the friend’s bloody shirt left in a public place as a warning. And illustrates the story with a red-stained shirt.
Also, we appreciated the Smith Robertson Museum overview of the history of slavery, including a reproduction of a slave ship that I found too scary to enter. And its exhibits about Reconstruction and the migration of Southern Black people to Northern states, Field to Factory: The Afro-American Migration, 1915-1940.
SheBuysTravel Tip: This gem of a museum only costs $7 and was a memorable part of our Mississippi road trip. But call first to confirm it is open. And ring the bell if the door is locked.
6. Sumner Courthouse
In 1955, two white men murdered Emmett Till, a Black Chicago teenager who was visiting Mississippi relatives. A jury acquitted the murderers. But both later confessed.
Visiting the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner was a highlight of our Mississippi road trip. It’s not a museum. Rather, at the site, a trained guide facilitated a thoughtful and emotional conversation among the 5 visitors about race and history. Then the guide brought us into the actual Mississippi courtroom where the trial took place. Even though there is no violent imagery, this emotionally powerful experience may be better for kids over 11. Also, it requires advance reservations for groups larger than 10.