“My grandaddy opened this shoe store in 1938. I started shining shoes in 1967, I was ten. My grandparents handed it down to my father and he passed it down to me. I had to do whatever daddy said. 1967 was a beautiful time on Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi. There wasn’t an empty building on the whole street. The village raised the children and we took care of each other. Mrs. Peaches had the diner next door and could read my mind when I was hungry and she would feed me. Big Apple Inn opened in 1942 and they are the only other business still open. I don’t make much money but I am the boss. No one is breathing down my neck, and I make my own hours.
You should have seen the life here. The Alamo Theatre on this corner packed the streets. There were so many going to shows and movies that the line went down the street and around the corner. People were bused in from Brookhaven, Canton, Pelahatchie and Copiah. It cost 25 cents to come over here. They called a quarter two bits. It was love honey. Pure love back then.
This street had three grocery stores and four furniture stores. Myles Peanut was across the street. Mr Myles was Italian. There were some Jews and black business owners. It was mixed here. Palace Auditorium was across the street. Duke Ellington, Count Basey, Louis Armstrong, Cab Callaway, B.B. King and Dinah Washington all played here. I saw Steve Wonder with five blind boys holding hands and walking down the street. That was before he was Stevie Wonder. You could go into Daddy Reed’s with 27 cents and come out fat as a pig. We walked through the front door at any story down here. Straight through the front door. There was dignity and respect and no signs that said ‘colored.’ It was beautiful.
On Saturday nights partying went down for blocks. Behind this business was Young’s alley with saloons in the houses. The old folks would play blackjack and Russian roulette. There were prostitutes here, too. Back then, everyone had a job. Minimum wage was about $1.80 but you could always buy something two for a penny.
The man across the street was a peanut man. When his daddy died, the white folks wouldn’t give him a loan to fix the business up. There was a drugstore across the street, when he died, his son wasn’t a pharmacist and couldn’t sell drugs. Around 1982 it really went down. Peaches Restaurant closed four years ago. She had a triple bypass and her son closed the business because he couldn’t take care of her and the business. They have been working on these two blocks with renovation projects and proposals going on 38 years. They haven’t opened one business yet. Meanwhile, the buildings keep falling apart and all that is left are memories.
We are loving people, but people can make you hate. They brought drugs and stolen guns to these neighborhoods. White folks from other parts of town come over here to buy dope and crack. I put my faith in God and He made all of us. We started out together with Adam and Eve. God is love and we should love each other. There is a lot we are missing now and problems started when they took paddling and prayer out of schools.
We need to get back to watching out for our neighbors. I was walking home from school and threw a rock and busted out a window in an empty house. I didn’t know the lady across the street saw me. She said, ‘Come here. Why did you do break that window? Reach down behind that chair and get my switch.’ She tore my butt up like she was my mama. I quit crying, walked in my house, and mama said, ‘What have you been doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ “If you have been doing nothing, why did Ms. Fannie have to whoop you up the street. Get me a switch.’ She spanked me and said, ‘Wait until your dad gets home.’ ‘Mama please don’t tell daddy.’ Penalties like that train you to do right in this world. My grandma said spare the world and spoil child.
Last year I turned three scores. Today young men don’t make it to 19 or 25. All of these changes are hard to take but the good Lord still has me here and I will be here as long as I have breath. Somebody has to stay here and tell the stories or Farish Street is going to die. This street should never fade away.”