Mississippi officials, civil rights leaders and school children broke ground today on the landmark Museum of Mississippi History and the first Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
“Mississippi has a rich history. Thanks to these two museums, generations to follow will see and hear those stories,” said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, adding, “They will see that Mississippi is much more about the future than the past.”
Myrlie Evers, former chair of the NAACP and widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said, “I could not help but think about how far we have come to this point. And how proud I am of Mississippi and how proud I am that these two buildings are going to show the world — not only the state of Mississippi, not only other states, but the world — who we are, where we have been, where we are today and where we are going.”
The two museums, which will share public spaces and classrooms, are scheduled to open in the fall of 2017 as the centerpiece of the state’s bicentennial celebrations.
The legislation approving construction of the museums required the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to match private donations with public funding for exhibits. MDAH Trustee Reuben Anderson announced that $5 million in private money — half the $10 million goal for private exhibit contributions — has been raised from 200 donors including major gifts by Entergy, Donna K. and James L. Barksdale, Trustmark, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi.
In addition to thousands of artifacts, the museums will showcase the heroic stories of Mississippians — both the famous and the unsung. The Museum of Mississippi History, which replaces and expands a museum damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, will explore the sweep of the state’s history from earliest times to the present.
The adjacent Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the nation’s first state-operated civil rights museum, will examine the struggle for civil rights and equality that changed the course of the state and the nation.
The themes of both museums will resonate nationally in coming months as the country commemorates anniversaries of key events in the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War.
A shovel line of more than 50 people including state officials, civil rights activists, Choctaw school children in traditional attire and others broke ground at the site of the museum complex.
The groundbreaking included a daylong festival celebrating Mississippi culture, music and food. School children from throughout Mississippi participated in activities and games.
Both museums will feature state-of-the-art audio and visual experiences. Visitors entering a jail cell theater in the Civil Rights Museum will hear stories of activists jailed during the movement. In another gallery they will experience the consequences of “crossing the line” in Jim Crow Mississippi.
Visitors to the Museum of Mississippi History will explore the natural disasters that devastated the state, from the 1927 Flood to Hurricane Katrina. Music lovers can revel in the sounds of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Buffett, Leontyne Price.
Artifacts to be exhibited in the museums include an ornate garnet necklace donated by descendants of a Union soldier who stole the jewels from a Jackson home during the Civil War; a miniature chess set molded from bread handed out to Freedom Riders at Parchman prison; a rare 1818 20-star U.S.flag; and an original Bowie knife.
Museum curators are appealing to the public for additional artifacts and documents for the museums, particularly from the era of the civil rights struggle.