I confess that one of the main reasons pushed me to set out on my latest journey to the Southern USA – Mississippi on the road – was the desire to visit live the locations of one of the movies (and even first one of the books) that I loved most in the last years: The Help, directed by Tate Taylor.
So, to create later an itinerary rich in practical information, useful for people who want to plan the same route in a future journey to Mississippi.
The movie, based on the homonymous novel by Kathryn Stockett, deals with the problems concerning the Afro-Americans integration in the America of the early 1960s, gently and by surprisingly irony: it faces in details the difficult living conditions of the black maids on the rich white families’ service in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, literally divided in two parts due to an overwhelming racial segregation.
The story takes place between the summer and the autumn of 1963 and it’s told by the actions and thoughts of three female characters: the young and rich white girl Eugenia Phelan, called Skeeter, newly-graduated at the Ole Miss with writer ambitions; Aibileen Clark, a black maid who has been caring and looking after the children of the white families for 20 years; her impulsive friend Minnie Jackson, unpredictable and irreverent character whose performance on the screen gave the actress Octavia Spencer the Oscar.
Three exceptional women, unlike each other for their characters and social background but deeply motivate and closed by the desire to try changing (risking their personal safety) a way of thinking anachronistic by now, deeply unfair and most of times cruel, through the writing up of a “denunciation book”.
If you have never seen the movie or have never read the book (and you should, trust me), have a look to the trailer under and prepare to come with me, at least virtually, to the old Mississippi on the road to discover the most beautiful and unforgettable locations of The Help.
Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to our family.
(About “Skeeter”, The Help)
As I was saying, the movie was set in Jackson in the early 1960s even if actually it was shot in three different places: Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and the near Greenwood and Clarksdale, two little and charming centers of the warm and marshy area of Mississippi Delta.
Whether you come from Tennessee through the Blues Hwy 61, the Natchez Trace Parkway or the Great River Road; whether you come from Alabama following a literary route or that one dedicated to the Civil Rights; or whether you come from Louisiana to visit the area concerning the blues and the Juke Joint, you will meet inevitably these three cities sooner or later.
My tip is to carve out a couple of hours per city – less for the only two locations in Clarksdale – to visit the places indicated in the itinerary: take into account that Jackson and Clarksdale (Greenwood is in the middle more or less) are about 240 km far.
Mississippi on the road: “The Help” locations in Jackson
I wanted that the Mississippi state to become a character in the movie.
(Tate Taylor, The Help director)
Walking along Capitol Street, the avenue taking to the stately Old Capitol, you’ll realize that Jackson isn’t changed so much from the 1960s (and perhaps even before) until today.
Most of the buildings that skirt the main parkway and those ones in the near State Street date back to the first half of the 1900s: they are mostly two/three flats houses which are restored in part and which have preserved original colours and decorations.
Where Capitol Street crosses S. Roach St. you’ll run into an old diner with neon lights, the Mayflower Café.
Do you remember it?!
It’s the restaurant where Skeeter has dinner with Stuart. Do you remember the scene?
Exactly like in the movie, here they serves oysters together with crackers and ketchup, besides a series of seafood of the most authentic Mississippi traditional cuisine. If you decide to stop and have lunch ask to the owner for the table used by Skeeter and Stuart: he will be happy to satisfy you…provided that it is free.
About 10 km far from Jackson city center, keep going northwards N. State Street, you’ll meet Woodland Hill, a little suburbs quarter literally steady in the colours and in the harmony in the 1960s: so, any surprise that most of the outside scenes of The Help are shot here.
Stop the car in Dulig Ave and walk as far as N. State Street and you’ll realize to be in a vintage movie: drive in, diner, market with big coloured signs, period houses, even the gas pump of 1955 and some old cars parked on the edge of the street – I think really by chance and not there for tourists.
You’ll recognize many places of the movie and one in particular: Brent’s Drugs.
It’s an old Drug Store, opened by the druggist Alvin Brent in the 1940s later become diner with market.
It’s the place where Skeeter has lunch first with Elisabeth, Lou Anne and the wicked Hilly and later, after her scandal book was published, she has lunch alone at the bar sent away by her ex friends.
Maybe stop for a classic eggs and olives sandwich and for a limeade, a specialty of the place, a sort of lime lemonade with sugar and soda.
A curious issue.
In the back of the store where at one time people prepared the pharmaceutical cures today there’s a sort of speakeasy period pub: the Apothecary.
You knock at the door on the back with two sharp knocks and you enter (maybe for an aperitif or a beer) the “secret” place that kept untouched the old furniture of the drugstore – with the whole quarter theme.
Most of the buildings of the movies’ well-off Whites in Jackson are in the elegant area of Belhaven University.
Like the Jackson Junior League (active from 1941) where the scenes of the charity party organized by Hilly were shot (it is at 805, Riverside Drive). Or the parkways surrounded by period dwelling houses where you have seen Aibilieen and Minnie walking at the end of their long days on Elisabeth and Hilly’s service.
The whole cast of The Help during the shootings in Jackson stayed in one of the most beautiful colonial houses of the area, today a charm B&B: the Fairview Inn at 734, Fairview Street. Go in and ask for a mini tour: the insides are wonderful and the bar serves very good cocktails.
Another curious issue.
The author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, comes from Jackson; its birthplace is just in this area, next to the writer’s Eudora Welty house museum.
Most of the episodes quoted in her book and in the movie (she collaborated personally with the scriptwriters and the producers so that the movie was the most relating to the novel) are related to some real events happened in the story of her family. For example, the phrase Aibileen always repeats to the little Mae Mobily – You is Kind. You is Smart. You is Important – a memory related to Stockett’s mother childhood, neglected by her parents and grown up by her loving black nanny.
Mississippi on the road: “The Help” locations in Greenwood
We looked for a town had a lot of similar aspects of Jackson in 1960s and Greenwood fit the bill. (Brunson Green, production Team, The Help)
It’s exactly like that.
From the little old town as far as the cotton plantations to the dwelling houses out of the town.
Greenwood is a stop-motion of the life in a Southern little town of the USA in the early 1960s.
Just arrived to the town, my tip is going to the Greenwood Convention & Visitors Bureau at 111, Market Street and to ask for the map in details dedicated to The Help locations: it will be useful to find some of the places I’ll indicate you and that are difficult to find with the GPS since they are in the plantations out of town.
Aibileen and Minnie’s houses (203/204, Taft Ave) are in the quarter to the South of Greenwood, immediately after the railroad.
In these wood houses (not much bigger than huts), the area isn’t changed so much from 1963: still today Afro-American families of the area live here so always ask for permission before taking a photo or shooting a video and avoid to stop for a long time in the quarter.
In the town center at 309, Howard Street you’ll run into the bookshop (actually a stationery shop) where in the movie the first copies of The Help are sold; and at 613, River Road you’ll run into the Franklin Residence, where the scenes of Skeeter’s house insides were shot.
Stop for a snack at the Crystal Grill at 423, Carrollton Ave where you can taste the two specialties of Minnie Jackson: her unique fried chicken and the notorious chocolate cake, really delicious despite the movie’s scene.
Do you remember it, don’t you?
Going northwards along Gran Boulevard you’ll run into the outsides of Hilly and Elisabeth’s beautiful dwelling houses, respectively at 413, Gran Boulevard and 1101, Poplar Street.
Between Poplar Street and East Adams in front of Little Red Schoolhouse Park there’s the open space of the famous bus stop of Aibileen and Minnie’s Bus, presents in several sequences of The Help.
The Whittington Farm at 518, Money Road is the plantation where the outsides of Skeeter’s house were set. Absolutely my favourite location.
Search in the garden opposite the entrance the marble bench where Skeeter loves to hide and where she meets Stuart, and then stop on the veranda remembering the funny spat with Hilly.
Not far from here going along Money Road northwards you’ll run into the Little Zion Church at 518, Country Road, the little, nice, white Aibileen and Minnie’s church.
Celia Foote’s house, Hilly’s funny rival and Minnie’s good friend, is 15 km out of Greenwood at 6337, MH Highway 17, in North Carrolton.
The two bridges relating the Greenwood town center to the suburbs through the Yazoo River are those ones used for the shootings by car on Skeeter arrival to town immediately after her graduation at the Ole Miss. The opening scenes of the movie.
On the map of the visitor center you’ll find even more locations. However, I think that those ones quoted above are the most recognizable and those ones related to the most manifest episodes of the movie.
Mississippi on the road: “The Help” locations in Clarksdale
You’ll arrive to Clarksdale certainly bewitched by the passion or the curiosity: it depends on the interests, for that is considered by everyone – justly – the birthplace of the real Jazz.
If you have a few time carve out an hour to visit the last two locations of this tour.
Do you remember the scene where Skeeter is hired at Jackson Journal?
Actually this Journal is the Clarksdale Bank Building and is in the town center at 123, E and Street.
Just out of the town at 520, Anderson Blv you’ll meet the Wong’s Foodland, the market where Aibileen and Minnie do the shopping and where they hide after have seen some “white women” read their book, visibly annoyed (go into it and you’ll realize to be in the 1960s for real).
Thanks and quotes
I owe a proper thank you to the Visit Jackson and Visit Greenwood tourist bodies that with enthusiasm and great helpfulness helped me, supported me and followed me on the place, location after location and then gave me further useful cues for the final writing up of this itinerary.
A special thanks to the very experienced Mary Current – guide and soul of Visit Jackson – who accompanied me in the visit of Mississippi capital giving me anecdotes and curiosities about the movie and its characters.