Tourist Sites: Richard Wright and Margaret Walker’s Homes

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While the photo above may look like an ordinary home, it actually features the so-called childhood home of writer Richard Wright. Last week, I had the opportunity to see several Civil Rights and Civil War sites with the boyfriend. Somehow we managed to work the literature aspect into the trip as well. Going with him was like watching a movie with the “historian’s commentary” on. I could always count on him to confirm whether something was historically accurate or to quiz me on American and World history knowledge. Since he’s a teacher himself, you can trust there was always a lesson involved. This is a good thing. [deleted mushy talk]

During my disappointing search for African-American book news, I decided to make this post more personal. While mapping out our 3-4 day drive through the South, Natchez, Mississippi was added so that we could see Wright’s home. I knew I should have brought Black Boy along!

Today, while reviewing our trip photos, I was reminded to grab the book and find the specific passages involving his having lived in the pictured house. Here is what I found:

My mother arrived one afternoon with the news that we were going to live with her sister in Elaine, Arkansas, and that en route we would visit Granny, who had moved from Natchez to Jackson, Mississippi.

With that in mind, there is another landmark in Natchez’s Bluffs Park. The sign notes that Wright was born 22 miles away “nearby,” but the way the city claims him you would swear he spent most of his life in Natchez. Needless to say, that was not the case. Somebody call me out on this if I’m wrong. Even if the visit to Grandma’s house only took place once, visualizing how it may have been was difficult. The street was now rundown and ‘ghetto life’ demonstrated its finest assets. What’s really crazy is that Jackson, Mississippi doesn’t have one tourist site or monument dedicated to Wright. Again, if I’m wrong…let me know.

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Margaret Walker‘s Jackson, Mississippi home is mentioned in the city visitor’s guide. Information found online about Walker (for those of you who are like–who?) included:

Before her death in November, 1998, Walker had written more than 10 books and an unknown number of poems, short stories, essays, letters, reviews, and speeches. Walker was honored with a host of awards and accolades as well as four honorary degrees. Jackson, Mississippi, her home for much of her life, has honored her by naming July 12 “Margaret Walker Day.”

So my question is, if Jackson, MS cares enough to mention Walker in their tourist guide and to dedicate a day to her, why can’t this same city better maintain her home? Maybe the family owns it and is forced to rent it out for money. Maybe people honestly just don’t care who Margaret Walker is (family, friends, and city officials alike). This house isn’t something that I would even verbally tell someone to see, let alone write a blurb about it in a city pamphlet. View the pictures and see the evidence for yourself.

If your cousins live in either one of the mentioned homes, tell them to email me and tell me what’s really going on. I’ll make a small donation toward repairs/upkeep. Dang.

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7 thoughts on “Tourist Sites: Richard Wright and Margaret Walker’s Homes

  1. Often when it comes to blacks who have accomplished something intellectually, politically, educationally, entertainment, etc the homes or center where they grew up are turned into tourist attraction but sometimes are not up kept like they should be. The Martin Luther King jr. center was not up kept like it should have been either, and it was deteriorating the government wanted to but it.

    Richard wright was also the one who made the term black power popular.

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  2. Interestingly enough, I was in Jackson, MS. a couple of weeks ago (July 25-26) myself. I didn’t stop by Margaret Walker’s humble abode, but I did go on a tour of Eudora Welty’s home and gardens–something I’d been meaning to do for a couple of years now. Welty was a White, Southern writer, who, like Margaret Walker, called Jackson home. *Here’s a link with a picture of the two of them together* http://www.shs.starkville.k12.ms.us/mswm/MSWritersAndMusicians/writers/Walker.html

    Of course, the differences between their houses is striking–to say the least. I’m sure there’s a “story” behind MW’s house and its current state of disrepair. With us, there generally is, isn’t there? (smile)

    Before Eudora Welty died, she willed her house and all of her books and papers to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The Welty family, in turn, donated her art and all of her furniture (with the exception of one piece) to MDAH. I can only assume this wasn’t the case in Ms. Walker’s situation.

    While it might be nice to see MW’s home turned into a museum of some sort, I’m inclined to believe, if you truly want to know someone like MW, the last place you’d probably want to look is her home . . .

    If you really want to see and feel the greatness/significance of Ms. Walker’s life–take a look at the words she left behind for us. The following are some of my favorite stanzas from her poem “For My People”:

    “For the cramped bewildered years we went to school to learn to know the reasons why and the answers to and the people who and the places where and the days when, in memory of the bitter hours when we discovered we were black and poor and small and different and nobody cared and nobody wondered and nobody understood . . .”

    “For my people standing, trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will hold all the people, all the faces, all the dams and eves and their countless generations . . . ”

    So, maybe the next time you’re in Jackson, MS (yeah, I know, as if, right? *smile*) and you stop by Ms. Walker’s home, why not take out her poem and read a couple of stanzas? Heck, read the whole thing and see if you aren’t at some point moved to tears . . .

    Oh, and you probably already know this, but Jackson is also the home of the Margaret Walker Alexander National Reearch Center For the Study of the 20th Century African American and is located on the Jackson State University Campus–on “Lynch Street” no less (smile).

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  3. Lori – I disagree with your statement that the last place you’d look is an individual’s home when seeking an understanding of the greatness/significance of their life. Their home, street, and city had to inspire something within them, right? Most things that writers see and hear find a way into their writing. We wanted to see the National Research Center too, but we were trying to squeeze everything into 3-4 days. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see everything. You hit the nail on the head–who wants to return to Jackson, MS anyway?

    Chance – I don’t understand how they let tourist sites become so rundown. It’s such a shame.

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  4. Hmm, I guess I have more of a holistic perspective . . . While I do think one’s house might be a piece of a larger puzzle, by no means is it the entire picture. But I won’t quibble. I don’t have the heart.

    I will say this though–I used to think Mississippi was an enigma . . . until I lived in Cleveland, Ohio (smile). Just joking. Well, sorta/kinda.

    All kidding aside, I do plan to return to Jackson, MS at some point. There is a wealth of material there and (as you pointed out) lots of work yet to be done . . .

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