Travelers to and through Mississippi can experience the rich history, along with the arts and culture, that have helped create Mississippi’s unique contributions to the world. It is a past that can be found along the river from which the state takes its name, where cities like Natchez and Vicksburg blend past and present to create an experience for all tastes. It is on the Natchez Trace, a 444-mile scenic drive stretching through the state, or in juke joints and restaurants where food and music have their roots in the culture and the people who define the state.
The Natchez Trace stretches through three states, beginning in Natchez, Mississippi. The road as it is today roughly matches what was once the Old Natchez Trace, an historic path originally used by the native people of the region. Visitors can drive, hike, or bike their way across the state or stop at any of the numerous historic landmarks, scenic overlooks or visitor’s centers found along the Trace. One site known as Emerald Mound is a 35-foot-high earth mound located just outside of Natchez. It was constructed by some of Mississippi’s earliest inhabitants and is a reminder of the legacy of Mississippi’s history.
The City of Natchez is located on one of the state’s earliest European settlements. Situated on the Mississippi River, the city was an early trading post. Today visitors can look out over the river while they enjoy meals influenced by the blending of cultures in the state. The tamale, a Latin American dish that was adapted in the Mississippi Delta region, is now a staple in restaurants across the area. The award-winning hot tamales at Fat Mama’s Tamales are a prime example of how the food and culture of Mississippi emerge from the people and events of its past.
Architectural gems can be found all throughout Mississippi, from the river bluffs of Natchez to the flatlands of Columbus. The grand historic homes and Italianate mansions in Columbus are year-round, living museums of the home styles of the past. With more than 650 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, visitors can tour a town rich in architectural heritage, and they can even tour some of the homes themselves as part of the city’s annual Spring Pilgrimage. Perhaps one of the most well-known homes is that of legendary playwright Tennessee Williams, one of many luminaries of Mississippi’s literary heritage.
The homes and lives of times gone by make up a fraction of the story of Mississippi. In Jackson, the Two Mississippi Museums offer a vivid visualization of the state’s rich and complex past. The Museum of Mississippi History explores the threads of the Mississippi tapestry, dating back to the first inhabitants and reflecting on the legacies of subsequent generations. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum explores the movement, the places, the people, and the perseverance that helped transform Civil Rights in Mississippi and throughout the nation.
While Mississippi has its deep-seated historical roots, the state’s literary heritage shines another spotlight on the people and places that have influenced readers and writers around the globe. In Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi, an impressive array of writers, like contemporary best-selling author John Grisham and Nobel Laureate William Faulkner, have made their homes and shared their stories. Faulkner’s estate, Rowan Oak, still sits under pine and magnolia trees that shade guests visiting the esteemed writer’s home. His fictional setting of Yoknapatawpha County was inspired by Lafayette County, of which Oxford is the county seat. Today a life-sized statue of Faulkner sits on a bench just outside Oxford City Hall.
Known as the “Birthplace of America’s Music,” Mississippi played a significant role in the creation of musical genres listened to around the world today. From the blues to country to rock ‘n roll, Mississippians are widely recognized for their contributions to the music industry. According to legend, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in the Mississippi Delta in exchange for his extraordinary ability to play guitar. B.B. King, the undisputed “King of the Blues,” is remembered among the best American musicians of all time. The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola was created to share his story and the story of the Delta Blues as a pillar, not just of American music, but of music enjoyed around the world.
The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, also known as The MAX, shares the stories of Mississippi legends that have shaped – and continue to shape – arts and entertainment worldwide. Located in Meridian, The MAX shares a history of the arts, from the traditions and culture of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to musicians, actors, authors and more that have roots in Mississippi. The MAX’s impressive Hall of Fame provides a 360-degree, multisensory experience that celebrates some of the world’s biggest stars, like Elvis Presley, Morgan Freeman, Oprah Winfrey and Jim Henson, inventor of the Muppets.