I first heard of the town of Port Gibson, Mississippi while exploring the nearby Sunken Trace, which is part of the centuries-old footpath and wagon road from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi that today is the pretty 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway.
If you are around on a weekday, stop in at the Mississippi Cultural Crossroads community center, located right downtown on Market Street, across from a small park with one of the blue Mississippi Blues Trail signs, for singer Lil Green.
Take a little time to admire some of the gorgeous quilts made by the local “Crossroads Quilters” and displayed in the main meeting room. They are stunning.
I am not a quilter, or really any sort of seamstress beyond the occasional loose button or torn seam, but I do admire the artistry and color combinations of beautiful, distinctive quilts. The local women who call themselves the Crossroads Quilters make these pieces, and many are for sale.
There is a quilters’ mini-museum in the main room, with all sorts of historic photos and descriptions of key Mississippi quilt artists over the years including Master Quilter Hystercine Rankin. She quilted a poignant tribute to her father, who was murdered when she was a young girl.
This video from Craft in America does a nice job of introducing the artists and how they approach their work…
The day that we visited, Port Gibson local Mr. Melvin Anderson was kind enough to give us a quick tour.
The back workroom didn’t have any classes or quilting projects going on at the time, but we admired a vibrant work-in-progress and imagined busy people at all the sewing machines, or stitching as a group.
Such a combination of colors; it’s a good thing this quilt wasn’t completed or for sale yet, or I’d have bought it on the spot.
The mural behind Mr. Anderson in the photo above includes an image of the Our Mart, Inc. grocery store.
Below is a more complete photo of the mural. Our Mart is a landmark in the U.S. civil rights struggle. In the 1960’s, local white merchants in Port Gibson refused to hire Black cashiers or clerks, nor were there any Black elected officials in a county (Claiborne) that was 76% Black. Most Black residents were afraid to register and/or vote.
Black Port Gibson residents launched an economic boycott, which included the VP of the local NAACP chapter opening Our Mart Grocery, so Black residents wouldn’t have to drive to Vicksburg or Jackson for groceries, to adhere to the boycott.
The boycott worked, so a number of local white merchants got mad and sued the NAACP for damages. The suit went all the way to the Supreme Court and was settled in the NAACP’s favor, but, incredibly, not until 1982. (!!)
Across the street from Mississippi Cultural Crossroads is a small park.
It has one of my favorite items of decorative art – a bottle tree. Look closely; there are glass electrical insulators up there, too.
One last distinctive thing to look for in Port Gibson – the Hand Pointing to Heaven.
Yes, that is a 200 pound golden hand with a four foot-long pointing finger.
It was originally commissioned and installed atop the First Presbyterian Church steeple in 1901, and was recently refurbished so that it glowed in my sunset photo…
Have you visited this part of Mississippi? What did I miss? Let me know down in the comments.
(All photos by the author)
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