Farish Street Research & Interpretation

In the lead up to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the Museum partnered with the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University to commission independent place-based research projects engaging stories about Jackson, MS. For his project, johnson combed the archives of the Margaret Walker Center in search of a story which might be activated in some way, rather than simply told.

In 1986, the creation of Farish Street Park and this sculpture were intended to spark increased efforts to revitalize this historic Black business district. Established during Reconstruction, Farish Street became the largest economically independent Black community in Mississippi by the 1940’s - but by the eighties the destructive legal and social white supremacist reaction to integration had led to massive disinvestment and abandonment in the area. johnson had known of this curious public sculpture for decades, and when he ran across a picture of it in the Margaret Walker archives, he new he had found his project.

In the archives, johnson found a small program from the unveiling ceremony for the sculpture, with a poem by Walker printed inside; A Poem for Farish Street. Finding news articles from the time and tracking down the artist for an interview, daniel knew that the most meaningful thing he could accomplish through his project was to stitch the sculpture and its poem back together. Artist Linda Trobaugh had been awarded a commission to create a “playground sculpture” for the opening of the park. Trobaugh then commissioned Walker to write a few lines of poetry she could print directly onto the sculture - but true to form, Walker wrote a set of discrete poems which taken together formed the work. Because it could not fit on the scultpure, it was printed in the unveiling press conference program and over time the connection between the two was lost. It was ultimately published in Walker’s 1989 book This is My Century.

This dilapidated public sculpture stands as testament to a failed municipal effort to “revitalize” through isolated landscaping and public art in the absence of any holistic public effort to reverse the damaging political policies oppressing the people who live in the community. This strategy is still employed across America in what amounts to symbolism over outcomes for everyday people. The Farish Street/Main Street Project, the Margaret Walker Center, and johnson came together to install a plaque created by johnson and call community leaders back together, some who had been at the original ceremony, to perform again an unveiling in the park and refocus Jackson on the people who remain the lifeblood of Farish Street.

Participating in the program were Rev. CJ Rhodes of Mt. Helm Baptist Church; Dr. Robert Blaine, Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Jackson; Dorothy Davis, President of Farish Street Community of Shalom; Dr. Robert Smith, Chair of the Margaret Walker Center Advisory Board; Dr. helen crump of the Jackson State University Department of English; Rev. David McCoy of Central United Methodist Church on Farish Street; and Janet Scott, Executive Director of the Greater Jackson Arts Council whose precursor the Arts Alliance of Jackson/Hinds County sponsored the original sculpture competition which commissioned this public art work.

daniel@significantdevelopments.us — Jackson, Mississippi