Past, Present, Future

An essay by Jackson's First Lady Dr. Ebony Lumumba examines the complex beauty of a storied Southern city.

A historic look at Downtown Capitol Street. Image: Deville Camera and Video

Margaret Walker’s sentiments about Jackson, Mississippi, in her poem titled, “For the Capitol City”, convey the deep emotion that love for a place can muster.

To love a place is to ensure others will know it as you have known it, and knowing Jackson requires engagement with our artists.

Walker’s poem is not all about the beauty of our vast city. The poet invokes the sordid history of our southern home and writes of the “closed doors” and “ketchup-splattered floors” of lunch counters where protestors sat peacefully while their attackers echoed the “ranting voices of demagogues.”

She indicts the city’s segregated past (all too present in 1970 when the poem was published) and paints a picture of the progress and peril its residents encounter based on the color of their skin in juxtaposing “white avenues” to “black alleys.”

In the midst of this litany of inequities, Walker shifts to the allure of Jackson and the poem flourishes into a celebration of a city with rich, intangible pulchritude—one “puddled with promise of a brand-new tomorrow.”

That is how I see Jackson. Complex. No stranger to ugly yet resilient in its beauty. It is the words of Walker and our other literary artists that have led me to truly know our city for its triumphs, tragedies, and truth.

So, as I see it, the true story of Jackson, Mississippi, is breathed through its literary daughters and sons. Margaret Walker.Richard Wright. Eudora Welty. Kiese Laymon. Angie Thomas.

They write us as whole and not pieces that can be understood without the others. While not always writing about Jackson, they entangle us in this old city with new life, line by line.

When they write of native sons and brave girls and Black boys and justice and love and lineage and struggle, they show us ourselves from every vantage point.

From Civil War through civil rights, the story of this city does not rest in history books but the works of our artists. You can travel to this city—the largest in Mississippi—and never truly know it without their narratives. Both timeworn and innovative, historic and futuristic, this remarkable city speaks through its pens.

Farish Street and Georgetown. West Side and downtown. Mynelle and Manship. Battlefield and Hico. Bulldogs and Tigers. Every pocket of our city is thoughtfully packaged in the warmth of their prose—showing us ourselves and documenting how we were and where we can be.

As our storied city broaches its 200th year, the writers save us in history. We cannot forget or be forgotten. Their stories yield our honesty, and our home shines through tales of adversity and triumph. Our victories are contextualized by the struggle to achieve them, and we are sober about our love for this place.

And so, we give Jackson our hearts for everything it has been and will be.

a Black female with curly hair smiles
Dr. Ebony Lumumba

Dr. Ebony Lumumba is currently an Associate Professor of English at Jackson State University where she chairs the department of English, Foreign Languages, and Speech Communication. She is an active scholar with numerous publications to her name. Dr. Lumumba is an avid supporter of education and the arts. She serves on the board for the Foundation for Mississippi History, the Mississippi Humanities Council, The International Ballet Competition, New Stage Theatre, and The Mississippi Book Festival and participates on the national advisory boards of the Eudora Welty Foundation and the Mississippi Museum of Art. She is the founder of Mothers Obtaining Justice and Opportunities (MOJO) – a non-profit organization that supports mothers pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees and the owner and principal artist of OraAlease Designs. She also hosts episodes of “Write On, Mississippi” – a literary podcast sponsored by the Mississippi Book Festival.

Dr. Lumumba is married to her kindergarten sweetheart, Chokwe Antar Lumumba – Honorable Mayor of Jackson – and the couple has two daughters, Alake’ and Nubia.