Flanked by the mighty Mississippi River along its entire western border, the Magnolia State encompasses many identities. You'll find palatial mansions and rural poverty; haunting cotton flats and verdant hill country; honey-dipped sand on the coast and serene farmland in the north. Often mythologized and misunderstood, this is the womb of some of the rawest history in the country. And that's why the state is worth an extended visit. The novels, music and art birthed here tell deeply personal stories. They're not always easy to hear. But there's a compelling sense of connection – even joy – in the sharing. See for yourself in a late-night blues club in the Delta. Or on a wander through the homes of the state's great novelists. Or during a quiet moment inside an artist's cabin where bright murals depict the wonders of nature here. Immersion sparks conversations and will challenge your assumptions.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Mississippi.
Whether it's a voice from overhead yelling at you to 'keep on moving,' graphic photos of lynchings hitting you with a gut punch, or the towering wall of mugshots of Freedom Riders stopping you in your tracks, the exhibits at this compelling new museum keep you on high alert. The national Civil Rights movement is explored through the lens of the fight for racial equality in Mississippi, with eight exhibit halls tackling the key eras. Plan to spend a half-day.
Vicksburg controlled access to the Mississippi River, and its seizure was one of the turning points of the Civil War. A 16-mile driving tour passes historic markers explaining battle scenarios and key events from the city's long siege, when residents lived in caverns to avoid Union shells. Plan on staying for at least 90 minutes. The USS Cairo Museum, which spotlights the ironclad gunboats used by Union forces, is worth a stop, and the salvaged USS Cairo is on view.
Here along one of the last undeveloped stretches of the coastal South, this maze of wetlands, beaches and five off-shore barrier islands is not tremendously accessible, but if you plan ahead, you will experience the migrating birds, scrubby dunes and empty white-sand beaches. By car, you can access Davis Bayou, an attractive wet quilt of marsh islands and flat-water horizons.
In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago, was lynched in Mississippi after being accused of flirting with a white woman. An all-white jury acquitted two white men, Roy Bryant and JW Milam, who later confessed. Although lynchings had occurred in the South before, this particular murder galvanized anger like few others and led to the first major wave of the mid-20th-century Civil Rights movement. This small museum, in the courthouse where the trial occurred, offers self-guided tours.
This multistory confection is not what it seems. Commissioned by cotton baron Haller Nutt in 1861, the interior of the home – the largest octagonal house in the US – is unfinished. Its exterior and basement were the only sections completed before laborers fled at the start of the Civil War. You can still see their abandoned tools on an upper floor. The family fortune in tatters, the Nutts lived in the basement after the war, the ghostly upper floors deserted.
Open since 2016, this glossy outpost of the GRAMMY Museum – the other is in Los Angeles – traces the development of recorded music, with a focus on its cultural context and on Mississippi's rich musical heritage. The numerous interactive exhibits are quite engaging, especially if the museum isn't crowded. Songs by the state's most talented musicians, from Charley Patton to Faith Hill, can be enjoyed at the Mississippi Music Bar.
In the ten-minute introductory film, the voice of God himself, Mississippian Morgan Freeman, introduces visitors to this compelling new museum. Exhibits tell the story of Mississippi and its residents, beginning in 13,000 BC and continuing to the present. Noteworthy displays, which are often supplemented by informative videos, cover prehistoric mound builders, the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes and their legends, the cotton industry, the Civil War and Mississippi's rich cultural heritage – don't miss Lucille's Place, a recreated juke joint.
It's hard not to get chills while touring the ranch-style home where Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963. Evers was standing outside the house in the carport when Byron De La Beckwith shot him from across the street. The bullet tore into the house and the bullet holes are still visible. You can read the historic marker on the lawn and some information in the carport, or call house curator Minnie Watson to schedule a tour.
Opening its doors in 2018, this glossy space celebrates Mississippi's rich cultural heritage, sweeping in music, literature, painting, dance, media and the culinary arts. Enormous photographs in the two-story Hall of Fame spotlight homegrown luminaries like Oprah, Elvis and Eudora (no last names needed, right?). The many interactive exhibits here are intuitive, informative and loads of fun. Don't miss the Southern-fried cooking tips in the Interactive Kitchen – move the plates across the table and watch what happens.