The Magnolia Literacy Project
For the Love of Farish Street & Family: 82 Years of Black Entrepreneurship & Activism in Mississippi
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
By LaWanda Dickens
Pictured below: Jone Primm, owner of Marshall's Music and Bookstore
Sitting on a time-honored foundation of Black entrepreneurship, Marshall's Music and Bookstore is an 82-year-old quasi-museum, located in the Farish Street Historic District of Jackson, Mississippi.
A depot of knowledge, the small, but far-reaching, store is a product of the cultural blossoming associated with Farish Street. Far from the average bookstore, Marshall’s was founded in 1938.
To fully understand Marshall’s significance, one must reach back to its origins in a neighborhood with a rich legacy of grass roots activism. The historically Black owned business represents the soul of Farish Street.
Like many Black communities across America, Farish Street is a mini-motherland that gave birth to churches and businesses, providing Black Mississippians with outlets for growth and prosperity from the late 1800s through the early 1970s. The landscape included parks, entertainment, barbershops, beauty salons, stores, boutiques, restaurants, record companies, and housing. Residents fought to preserve the stability of the neighborhood, often referred to as a cultural mecca and known to be a popular site where the Civil Rights movement was energized. Unfortunately, the historic neighborhood faltered overtime. With its decline came flight, neglect, and a narrative of faded glory.
Marshall’s is a proverbial mighty oak that still stands, a reminder of Farish Street’s iconic role in shaping Black life, history, and culture. The store’s owner and operator, Jone Primm, a Minneapolis, Minnesota native, who relocated to Mississippi years ago from Chicago, Illinois, is keeping the heritage alive. Primm is a champion in the movement to revitalize Farish Street, and those who enter the doors of Marshall’s receive an immediate and refreshing form of cultural exposure.
A television, affixed to a corner where two walls meet, informs customers with though-provoking content as they shop. On every wall of the store, images of Black Mississippians – some celebrated, some unsung – tell the stories of heroes who changed the course of history in this state and, in many cases, America. Shelves and tables house works capturing the depth of Black thought and music. Motivational publications, encouraging self-care, are plentiful – so are greeting cards and art. A broad assortment of Sunday school texts and other forms of religious literature attract many of the store’s visitors. From candles, incense, and oils to jewelry, dashikis, and other apparel, Marshall’s is a microcosm of the Farish Street Historic District.
“Aside from being the oldest, Black owned bookstore in the country, what makes us different from other bookstores is our roots in the Farish Street community and our ongoing relationship with people is this area,” Primm told The MLP. “We work with other organizations to revive this area, and we do outreach work to help people who struggle financially and others who are wrongfully convicted.”
Marshall’s, formerly Wilcher's Christian Music and Bookstore, was founded by Louis Wilcher, a minister, civil rights leader, and associate of Primm’s grandmother, Ora Page Marshall. When Wilcher retired, Marshall purchased the store from him, building upon a platform that would ultimately lead to three generations of Black female entrepreneurship. Operating on a business concept rooted in community-building, educating, and empowering, Ora Page Marshall was influenced by her mother, Primm’s great-grandmother. The herstory is spellbinding.
“I come from a long line of people concerned with the plight of our [Black] people,” said Primm. “My roots are in Utica, Mississippi, where my great-grandmother founded a church school and burial ground after having been enslaved.”
The family has a clear commitment to education, one that was handed down through the generations. Ora Page Marshall, third from the left in the photo below, attended Utica Technical Institute, modeled after Tuskegee Institute.
At the time, 1908, schooling for women, Black women especially, was taboo since they were expected to remain in domestic roles. Ora Page Marshall defied stereotypes, while breaking down barriers. Continuing her mother’s legacy, she made sure her own daughter – Primm’s mother – received an education.
“My mother earned five college degrees,” Primm told The MLP. “And my family was always about applying knowledge while transferring it into the community, contributing to worthy protests, rallies, and marches.”
With a background in marketing and human resources, Primm, an image of the women who nurtured her, started college at the age of 13, when she was admitted into the University of Minnesota, where she majored in economics and business administration. When Primm moved to Jackson, she developed a fondness for not only the Farish Street community, but the state of Mississippi as a whole. She became the owner of Marshall’s after purchasing the store from her aunt, Louise Marshall, who owned it for eight years but had previously worked there for decades, alongside Wilson, Ora Page Marshall, and Beatrice Walton. Walton, another of Primm’s aunts, owned the establishment for 37 years before selling it to Louise Marshall. Primm is keeping her ancestors’ candle burning.
She was instrumental in the fight to free Jamie and Gladys Scott, two sisters who were wrongfully convicted of robbery, involving less than eleven dollars. The incident took place in Forest, Mississippi in 1993. Primm and other leaders collaborated to form a movement, which became known as “Free the Scott Sisters”.
“The young women were ordered to serve double-life sentences, each to run consecutively,” according to Primm. “Mayor Chokwe Lumumba [the father] appointed me as head coordinator of the initiative, and we got them released in 2011.”
There’s no question that Primm’s background as an activist is deeply rooted. She has taught dance at the Jackson State University Walter Payton center and on Farish Street at a studio two doors down from her store. She also sponsors weekend seminars on Black culture. One of Primm’s most popular initiatives is similar to George Washington Carver's movable school model, providing 20-hour tours of Mississippi, starting in Jackson and going south while stopping in various parts of Louisiana to discuss little known facts and people.
Although these and other community events have been temporarily discontinued due to COVID-19, they will resume when face-to-face engagement becomes safe. Primm says she has plans to “expand the sphere of awareness” to include programs that will counteract violence in the community, including topics such as anger management, crisis management, identity, legacy, parenting skills, and financial literacy.
Primm says a surge of teenagers and millennials are frequenting the store these days, including young, White customers, troubled by the George Floyd murder.
“They want to learn and understand how they can help make improvements. I think that’s beautiful,” Primm stated. “They ask questions, and I answer. And they want to know about resources that will broaden their insight.”
Discussing her “obligation” to use her platform as more than just a business, Primm told The MLP, “I teach people ages 3 and up. There is no age limit because no age group can be ignored. We all need knowledge, and it behooves all of us to learn.”
That philosophy, which Primm inherited from her ancestors, has kept Marshall's Music and Bookstore open for more than eight decades. Continuing the Farish Street Historic District’s legacy, Marshall’s is a cascade of knowledge and a community treasure.
Marshall's Music and Bookstore is located at 618 North Farish Street; Jackson, MS 39202. Their hours of operation are: Monday-Friday 10:00 A.M-5:00 P.M., and Saturday 10:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M. They can be reached at (601) 355-5335.
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