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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jackson, MS: Former Den Of Iniquity!

Well, go on down to Jackson; go ahead and wreck your health.
Go play your hand you big-talkin' man, make a big fool of yourself,
You're goin' to Jackson; go comb your hair!
Honey, I'm gonna snowball Jackson.
See if I care.
Do you remember Jackson? (Cheerful, isn't it?) Johnny Cash and June Carter won a Grammy in 1968 for the song in the Best Country and Western Performance category ( My "other person" declared last weekend that the song was about Jackson, MS (which I wasn't going to deny) and that the references to gambling in the song were based in fact. I don't know about you, but I grew up in Mississippi. I even read The Help. As a  state, we can be a touch on the conservative side, so a hotbed of gambling activity in Jackson, MS? Especially pre-1991? Hmph, I doubt it. I set out this morning to prove him wrong.

It's funny how it can be disappointing to be wrong and yet fascinated by the information at the same time! The twenty-first amendment, ratified in 1933, put an end to federal prohibition ( but the official ban on alcohol in Mississippi went on. And on. And on. Prohibition lasted longer in Mississippi than in any other state, not being officially over until 1966 ( Bootlegging and associated illegal activity thrived on Mississippi's Gulf Coast, in the Delta, and in Jackson. According to Living Blues, "Some bootleggers even advertised in the newspaper and ran radio ads." Subtle. A myriad of blues clubs, dives, juke joints, and gambling casinos sprouted on the east side of the Pearl River, right across from good old Jackson ( The area itself sounds like heaven and hell rolled into one delicious blues harmony. Musical greats like Elmore James, Little Richard, Etta James, Percy Mayfield and Roy Milton performed here. Milton, a groundbreaker in R&B, was shot in the face in 1948 while breaking up a fight at one of the clubs. That's one rough joint!

The activity filtered into the cities, too. I don't remember reading about this sort of thing in The Help!

The Jackson Country Club was playing host to a reception following the annual Carnival Ball that night. Around 7:00 P.M., sheriff's deputies raided the party. The Clarion-Ledger reported the next morning that "bottles by the hundreds, including champagne and the best of French wines were found. Deputies battered in the door while hundreds of men in evening dress and ladies wrapped in fur coats stood in a hallway nearby" (Nash 212-213.)
I'm seriously thinking about checking the microfilm to see if an enterprising reporter snapped a picture. That would be gold.

Barretta, Scott. "The Jackson Blues" Living Blues 35.2 & 3: 46+. Print.
Nash, Jere and Andy Taggart. Mississippi Politics: The Struggle For Power, 1976-2006. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2006. Print.

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