How an 84-year-old black-owned bookstore on Farish Street is still alive

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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Marshall’s Music and Bookstore is a black-owned family business on Farish Street in Downtown Jackson.

The store has been around for 84 years.

Like the books it sells, the store has its own story of surviving everything from the Great Depression, segregation and the Jim Crow era to a pandemic, recession and even digital transformation.

Maati Jone Primm is a third-generation owner of the store, which prides itself on educating children and adults about black history — which Primm says doesn’t start with slavery.

“Our story started where life started, and that’s in Africa,” Primm said confidently. “We are the first people and we are the oldest people. We created systems of governance – how we deal with each other in beneficial ways – we created arts because we needed to express ourselves; we created music, we created dance, we created the sciences of astrology and astronomy, architecture and agriculture.

You feel a huge sense of pride when you walk into the store.

Books, literature and music are stacked on tables and shelves. The walls are adorned with striking images of people of all races – many of whom are African American changemakers with roots in Mississippi.

Stacey Abrams from Gulfport, Ruby Bridges from Tylertown, Sam Cooke from Clarksdale, Charley Pride from Sledge, CL Franklin from Shelby and Judge Mablean from Hazelhurst are just some of the faces you’ll see.

Awe aside, Primm said another common reaction among guests is that they feel cheated.

“Some people on the wall that they don’t know or recognize, and they think they should have known about it at school,” she said. “You have to question what you have been taught for 12 years and why you don’t know more about your history.”

The history of the store begins in 1938.

It was originally started by Pastor Louis Wilcher, who led the Greater Pearlie Grove Baptist Missionary in Jackson.

Primm said he expected to have a bookstore on Farish Street because at the time it was a mecca for the black community.

“We had everything. We had a theater, we had birth centers, stores, we had restaurants, candy stores, a pharmacy, doctors’ offices, law firms,” Primm said proudly. We had a plethora of economic, spiritual and community businesses.”

Black people went to Farish Street where they could shop and spend their money with dignity, the entrepreneur explained.

“We didn’t have to walk down sidewalks or stand in line or wait for every white person to be served before we could be served. It was a place of great opportunity economically and spiritually.

Ora Marshall, Maati Jone Primm’s grandmother, was an educator who later bought the store and kept it in the family.

“She was a graduate of Utica Technical Institute and she was part of the class of 1908. She is the first generation of our family born out of slavery and so she always had a sense of commitment and of the community as his mother, who had been enslaved – left slavery and founded a church/school in burial grounds,” Primm explained. “My grandmother became principal of this school and taught there and other schools around Utica and Jackson, including Campbell College.”

Marshall used education as a vehicle for entrepreneurship, but she stayed on Farish Street to give back to the community what she had received.

“Black people come from the land of plenty, lots of education and lots of resources, and we use those resources to better our lives and also to make the world a better place.”

One of the ways Marshall said he’s made the world a little better is helping free others, including 21-year-old Jamie Scott and 19-year-old Gladys Scott. The sisters were sentenced to life for a robbery in central Mississippi in the 1990s.

“I worked with several people, including Chokwe Antar Lumumba – both father and son. We worked with the community, churches and people around the world because it became an international campaign,” Primm noted. “We were able to get them out of jail in January 2011 and it was a huge undertaking, but they were released.”

Considered the oldest black-owned bookstore in the country, Maati says the family business is not about selling books, but about experiencing the power they contain.

“Our mission is to know each other – that’s what our mission is. For black people who haven’t had the opportunity to be educated about who our people are, who we have been, who we will be at the continuation of our past – that’s what we give them. We educate them to let them know that they are part of a legacy. Our people are uplifted; they do better, they are best through knowledge of their heritage.

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