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How an 84-year-old, Black-owned book store on Farish Street is still alive

How an 84-year-old, Black-owned book store on Farish Street is still alive
How an 84-year-old, Black-owned book store on Farish Street is still alive(Marshall's Music and Book Store)
Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 6:39 PM CST
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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 there for an unbelievable 84 years.

Like the books it sells, the store has its own story of surviving everything from the Great Depression, segregation and 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 stresses doesn’t begin in enslavement.

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

You feel an overwhelming sense of pride when you step into the store.

Books, literature, and music are stacked on tables and shelves. The walls are adorned with striking images of African-American changemakers with roots in Mississippi.

Stacey Abrams from Gulfport, Ruby Bridges from Tylertown, Sam Cooke from Clarksdale, Charley Pride from Sledge, C. L. Franklin from Shelby and Judge Mablean from Hazelhurst are only a few of the faces you will see.

Aside from awe, Primm said another common reaction among guests - is they feel cheated.

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

The store’s history began in 1938.

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

Primm said it expected to have a bookstore on Farish Street because, at the time, it was the mecca of the Black community.

“We had everything. We had a theater, we had birthing centers, shops, we had restaurants, candy stores, a pharmacy, doctors’ offices, lawyers’ offices,” Primm beamed with pride. “We had a plethora of economic and spiritual and community-based enterprises.”

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

“We didn’t have to step off of sidewalks or wait in lines or wait for every White person to be served first 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 purchased 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 in our family born outside of enslavement and so she always had a sense of commitment and community due to the fact that her mother, who had been enslaved - left enslavement and founded a church, school and burial grounds,” Primm explained. “My grandmother became principal of that school and taught there and at other schools around Utica and Jackson, including Campbell College.”

Marshall used education as a vehicle to entrepreneurship, but she remained on Farish Street to give the community what she had been given.

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

One of the ways Marshall’s said it’s made the world a little bit better, is by helping to free others, most notably Jamie Scott, 21, and Gladys Scott, 19. The sisters received life sentences for a robbery in Central Mississippi in the 1990s.

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

The oldest, Black-owned book store in the nation, Maati says the family business isn’t about selling books but experiencing the power inside them.

“Our mission is to know thyself - that’s what our mission is. For Black people who have not had the opportunity to be educated on who our people are, who we have been, who we will be as a result of our past - this is what we give to them. We educate them to let them know that they are part of a legacy. Our people are lifted up; they do better, they are better as a result of knowing their inheritance.”

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