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Celebrating the people and the stories of the city we all love: Jackson, Tennessee.
Did you know that Tennessee was the deciding factor in ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment? I’ve lived here my entire life, and I didn’t realize this until a few days ago. I’m a woman who started voting in Madison County elections in 2011, but I would not have had that privilege if I had been born before 1920. If I were a black woman, I would not have been able to vote in the South without threats to my life and racist voter suppression state laws until 1965.
When I was eight years old, my family moved to Friendship, Tennessee, a town with a population of about 650 people. Having lived in Des Moines, Iowa, for most of my life, the only appeal of moving south was that my mom had a cousin in the area. I remember my surprise that a place so small could feel so loud. September was the month we moved, and even though the trees shed their covering earlier than normal that year, it still felt warm.
At the end of every school year, I have my students create a portfolio of different types of original poetry. I’d like to think I do it in order to foster their creativity, but it’s really because I’m too lazy to grade eighty-four final exams. Either way, it’s a win/win for all of us: they get to write sonnets and pretend that they’re actually writing their first rap hit, and I get to sit back and not grade bubbled-in answer documents. One poem they always struggle with is an elegy.
There’s something inherently special about a concert in someone’s yard. It’s personal because you’re visiting a person’s home, and yet it’s public because the music is for anyone to hear. Music sounds so free outside—there’s no high ceilings to provide good acoustics, just the blue sky above. The concert venue isn’t a building; it’s a neighbor’s porch or a friend’s front lawn. As the summer sun begins to set behind the vibrant green treetops, a cool breeze gives the concert attendees some relief, and the band plays a brand new song for the first time. This is Porchfest.
Winding through valleys and hills, small towns and big cities, rivers have played a crucial role in molding the landscape of Tennessee. A land rich in biodiversity, the many lakes and rivers that make up this portion of the country tell a fascinating story of traditions, cultures, and creativity. While bumping along on gravel back roads in Benton County, it’s easy to feel a complete disconnect from any sort of link to the world beyond Tennessee.
After taking a year-long hiatus from #OurJacksonTable weekly visits, we’re back and at it, and we’re proud to say that Jackson’s food scene has grown majorly since 2017! Check out where we hit up this spring, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to see where we’re headed next.
Blares of music echo throughout the Harris Sports Performance building as members enter through the silver steel door. Familiar with the daily bootcamp routine, they huddle around owner Nicholas Harris, prepared to stretch before the intense workout. Harris’ tenacious voice magnifies as he briefs his clients on the selected workout, pumping up the team. “Whatever your 100% looks like, give it!” he says. “Like always, we are here to work hard and give our best, so let’s get it!”
Why do we create monuments to the past? What is it about physical reminders—be they statues or plaques—that move us? Why do we feel the need to travel to the places of great historical events and walk the same ground? I am struck by the words of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg: “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays.”
Courtney Vandiver walked toward the tall, off-white credenza in the corner of the studio, above which hung two loose coloring sheets with pink crayon streaks bleeding from the bold, black outlines of butterfly wings. About eight feet of blue masking tape formed an “L” shape around the credenza. Before the class began and the girls were still giggling and adjusting their leotards, Courtney told me she had placed the tape there one stressful day, warning her students not to cross the line.
Don’t find yourself empty-handed this Mother’s Day! Jackson has dozens of excellent local shops to explore, many of which are run by women. If you’re stumped on what Mom would truly appreciate this year, check out this gift guide for ten one-of-a-kind ideas from female-run businesses we have featured in our journal and on our blog.
Two or three times a week, I put my body through the ringer. For thirty minutes, I do exercises that a man approaching forty probably shouldn’t attempt. I throw my body to the ground and spring up as quickly as I can. I push a weighted plate across the floor. I crawl like a bear up and down mats made of rubber. After all that is finished, I put on boxing gloves and hit a heavy bag that sometimes feels as if it’s made of concrete. When I kick it, my foot and shin turn red and bruise. My shoulders and arms feel as if they’re weighted by stones.
Hailing from the small town of Pinson, the city of Jackson was considered our metropolis. The vibrant downtown community was a far cry from the simple and wholesome country life of farmwork, church, school, and more farmwork. The coveted opportunity to go to “town” was a big deal. The long journey of a mere eleven miles up Highway 45 from Pinson was overshadowed by the thoughts of bright lights, department stores, food choices, and other amenities that were unavailable in Pinson.
If we could create a community that lets people thrive, prosper, and grow with safe streets, better schools, and improved infrastructure, along with economic growth, prosperity, and a better quality of life for decades to come, would you want to be a part of that vision for our community? For me, the answer to this question began fifty-four years ago just thirty miles up the road in the small rural town of Dyer, Tennessee. As a young boy, nothing excited me more than Saturday night when my family would load up in our white Ford Galaxie 500 and drive south to the big city of Jackson.
My parents were Olean and Carl Mayo. They ran a small grocery store on D Street in Bemis for thirty-five years, working long hours, six-and-a-half days a week, with no vacations because they had a dream of sending all five of their children to college. In our small house, the seven of us learned to share one bathroom, two bedrooms, and chores both at home and at the store. Our parents’ business was not only our livelihood but the key to our future, so we did our part to make it successful.
Like so many of my generation, my family grew up struggling a bit. I was born at 844 East College Street, near the old A&P store, just down from the Aeneas Center. My dad was in the service and retired as Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force. Back then, the people of Jackson took care of each other, cared for those who couldn’t care for themselves, and helped families stay together and self-reliant. There were government programs to help, but we relied more on ourselves and our neighbors. I believe we were better off for it.
In the late 1960’s in America, most states still enforced laws that made it illegal for a black person to drink from the same water fountain as a white person. Not all Americans embraced this way of thinking, however. Men like Matt Drayton (played by David Lundgren), publisher of a San Francisco newspaper, made a point to show biracial couples on the front page of his newspaper. Despite his progressive views on integration in America, Matt struggles when his white daughter comes home from her internship with quite a surprise: a black fiancé.
My childhood was probably different from most. Some of my earliest memories are from campaign events and press conferences, crawling around on the floor of the old city hall. Six generations ago, my family settled in Jackson, Tennessee. Since then, the Conger family has been a part of moving Jackson forward. My great-great-great-grandfather, PDW Conger, was mayor in 1861 to 1871. He was also part of the citizens’ committee that searched for the suspects in the Union Bank robbery and murder in 1859.
I can’t quite remember my life before The Great British Baking Show, but for that I’m grateful. If you’re unfamiliar with this British TV show that’s invading America and likely your Netflix watchlist, you really are missing out. Polite bakers, quirky hosts, scrumptious desserts—I mean, come on. It’s a true cup of tea, and as a former baker myself, I often daydream of creating my own treats under the white tent in that storybook-like field. All throughout high school, I was known as “the cake girl.”
In the last fifty-two years, the city of Jackson has had a total of three mayors. Robert Conger was mayor from 1967 to 1989. Charles Farmer succeeded him and served until 2007. That same year, Jerry Gist transitioned from county mayor to city mayor and will step down later this summer when Jackson elects a new mayor. There are a few possible reasons that only three men have held the most important position in the city over the course of half a century.
I like tattoos. I like tattoos a lot. So when the chance came up for me to interview the owners of Other Mother Tattoo, I jumped at the opportunity. I already knew that Briana Walker and Whitney Harbin were amazing at what they did, but after our conversation, I decided to start referring to them (and all the other tattoo artists that I know) as artists—not just tattoo artists. After reading our discussion, you might choose to do the same.
Already hungry for lunch? Us, too. Instead of trying to drive across town in your short break or run home for disappointing leftovers, try out the recently launched Waitr app! Waitr currently delivers food from over two dozen area restaurants, over half of which are unique to Jackson, and the list is growing. Not only that, but their app also offers an easy-to-operate group ordering option that allows for a special and convenient way for multiple people to grab a bite in a hurry.
If you drive through the suburban sprawl surrounding Nashville, headed west towards Jackson, Tennessee, the rolling hills will soon taper to level ground. You’ll know you’re almost there when a field of trees swallowed in kudzu forms hovering masses, almost like ancient creatures gathered alongside the road. We don’t think about it too much, but there’s something to the landscape of a place. Plenty of artists have tried, but it shapes us in ways we can’t quite name.
George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Like any place, Jackson, Tennessee, has its fair share of history, some things worth celebrating and others worth mourning, but all are worth remembering so that we can move forward in hope for change. One of those historically significant events for our community (and hundreds of others across the U.S.) is the brutal lynching of African Americans—not just one, but three. Jacksonians Jesse and Mary Chandler Wooten gave birth to a daughter in 1883.
As the weather gradually warms up this month, we’re all eager to get out of the house and find unique ways to spend our weekends. This March is full of exciting events, new and old, and many of which are as fun for kids and they are for adults. Check them out!
On Our Podcast
Deal of the Month
With history as an attorney, congressman, and magistrate judge, Jackson native Ed Bryant has had his fair share of experience in the U.S. government. Today on our podcast, Kevin Adelsberger interviews him about his career and how growing up in West Tennessee has shaped his perspective.
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