By Gwen Dawkins
As travel opportunities have been limited for the past couple of years due to Covid, I turned my attention toward domestic road trips that have long been on my list. Mississippi, where my wonderful Aunt Aleta lives, came to mind. I rallied my mom Carol and sister Kelly to join me on a fantastic girls’ trip through the South. One “must-see” for me was Greenwood, Mississippi, the primary filming location for the movie The Help.
Do you remember the book and movie based on the book called The Help? They came out in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Apparently, the film developed quite a resurgence in popularity last year during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. As a refresher, the story is set in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi. You may want to watch the trailer.
The movie earned countless accolades, too numerous to list, but included four Academy Awards nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and (Jessica Chastain), for which Spencer won. Viola Davis also won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor, and the cast won the Critics Choice Award for Best Acting Ensemble.
All of this is to say that it was a great story and movie. I personally loved it. To be clear, I didn’t see it as a view on racism in general, but rather, a gussied-up and triumphant snapshot of a particular place, people, circumstance, and point of view in time. On a recent trip to Mississippi, I took advantage of the city’s self-driving tour of the homes and buildings used in the movie. Greenwood, Mississippi, stands in for the state’s capital of Jackson for much of the filming. Our group watched The Help the night before to refresh our memories and then had great fun driving around the sites — most within a few blocks or miles of one another. Here are some highlights:
Junior League of Jackson
The Junior League building in the movie is actually the Mississippi Garden Club Headquarters, 401 East Market Street.
Skeeter Phelan’s House
Two homes comprised Skeeter Phelan’s (played by Emma Stone) house for the film. The interiors were shot at 613 River Road.
The exteriors were shot across the river, on the outskirts of town at 7300 Country Rd 518/Money Road. A small sign says: “Help Yourself Yard Tours.” We took advantage of it and walked through the expansive front yard– although some workers came to check on us to see what we were doing there.
Hilly Hillbrook’s House
The story’s central villain, Hilly played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is portrayed as living at 413 Grand Blvd. Skeeter had an “accidental” typo in the Junior League newsletter, instructing members to drop “old commodes” instead of “old coats” at Hilly’s house.
Junior League Benefit Auction
Leflore County Courthouse served as the exterior, and the Historic Elk’s Lodge was used for interior shots. This is where Jessica Chastain’s “Celia” gets too drunk, tries to befriend Hilly, but ends up vomiting in front of all attending.
Elizabeth Leefolt’s Home
This house served as the residence of Aibileen’s employers’ the Leefolts. While Elizabeth Leefolt, (played by Ahna O’Reilly) the number two villain, lives here, so does Aibileen’s beloved charge, sweet little Mae Mobley. Aibileen forever tells her, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” 1101 Poplar St.
Celia Foote’s House
Cotesworth home, located on Grenada Road, near Carrollton. (No street address.)
Celia, played by Jessica Chastain, who can’t cook to save her life, hires Minnie (Octavia Spencer) to cook and clean and leave the mansion before her husband gets home. It’s a ruse to impress her husband. Minny ends up teaching Celia how to cook. This plantation home is located about 25 minutes away from Greenwood. We skipped it because it would take us out of our way, but the mansion is now a heritage and events center.
Minny & Aibileen’s Church
The Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Money Road, Leflore County, MS,
(GPS Marker: N 33 33.796′ W 90 12.923)
This little country church on the outskirts of Greenwood is less than 10 minutes from town. Although there isn’t a physical address, you can’t miss it. The church is located at a bend in Money Road, between the road and the Little Tallahatchie River. In addition to being the oldest African American church in the area, and the house of worship used in the movie, it is also the purported final resting place of blues legend Robert Johnson. There are three such locations, all claiming to be Robert Johnson’s gravesite. This one does make sense from the standpoint that it is close to where Johnson lived in Baptist Town.
This neighborhood of Greenwood was one of the first places African Americans could own property in Mississippi after the end of slavery. In The Help, this is the neighborhood where Minny, Aibileen and most all of “The Help” lived. Today, it remains an economically impoverished section of Greenwood.
200 Taft St., Baptist Town
Hoover’s Market & Laundry
200 Young St., Baptist Town
We stopped here for some barbecue after reading about their delicious spareribs on another blog, Food52. As it turns out, these folks catered meals for cast and crew of The Help. Unfortunately, Mary Hoover was out sick and not cooking the day we visited. Still, her husband Sylvester, or “Syl” as he prefers, was there and regaled us with stories of his childhood. He shared details of sleeping six to a bed with his siblings and riding atop his mother’s nine-foot-long cotton picking sack as she handpicked cotton in the fields. When full, those sacks get to 200 pounds!
Next, he gave us a tour of his small museum next door called the Back In The Day Museum. This house is representative of many of the homes in Baptist Town. While this one does not have electricity or running water, Syl shared that the neighborhood did not get those services until the 1970s. Sylvester is incredibly friendly and an educator about local legends Honey Boy Edwards, Robert Johnson, and Emmett Till (14-year-old boy lynched while visiting locals). In fact, Sylvester offers a Delta Blues Legends and Civil Rights Tours, sharing how things were –– and in many ways, the way things still are in the delta. Incidentally, award-winning actor, director and narrator Morgan Freeman was raised in Baptist Town. Within Greenwood, Baptist Town is literally located “on the other side of the tracks.”
Greenwood, Mississippi, is one of the country’s most economically depressed areas, with an estimated 36.6 percent of the population living in poverty. Visiting Greenwood and patronizing its businesses is one way to aid the local economy. Visitors interested in The Help continue to contribute in uplifting the community. Stop by for a visit!