Murals are being installed and display cases positioned as the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum enter their last month of construction.
When building is complete at the end of July, the museums in downtown Jackson officially will be handed over to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The grand opening for both museums is set for Dec. 9, just one day before the bicentennial of Mississippi statehood.
The Museum of Mississippi History will touch on all aspects of life in Mississippi from 20,000 B.C. to the present day. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will focus on the struggle for equal rights from 1945 to 1976.
Pamela Junior, director of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and Rachel Myers, director of the Museum of Mississippi History, conducted media tours of the facilities on Monday.
When arriving in the entrance of the 200,000-square-foot building, visitors turn left to walk into the Civil Rights Museum or turn right to enter the Museum of Mississippi History. The museums’ theme, “One Mississippi, Many Stories,” is written on a giant cutout in the shape of the Mississippi with pictures of Mississippians from across the state.
An interactive touch screen will activate a variety of first-person accounts.
“We get to highlight women and immigrants and children and enslaved people and folks whose voices have not necessarily been represented in the past,” said Myers.
“Every part of history that was during that 30-year time frame of the Civil Rights Movement will be shown here in this museum, every part of it; bad, good, the ugly,” Junior said about the Civil Rights Museum.
Visitors first encounter a timeline extending from West African slave trade in 1791 to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. There are eight galleries in all, relying more on images than artifacts, Junior says, because it was a “young movement.”
All galleries lead into a vast opening in the center. A 40-foot suspended sculpture with interactive lights blink to the rhythm of This Little Light of Mine.
“You’re going to need a moment to reflect, because seeing all of this, you’re going to need time to breathe each time you come out of a gallery,” said Junior.
Dr. Doris Derby, who was active in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, visited the museum last week and offered high praise.
“She said, ‘You all are in line with the National Museum (of African American History and Culture in Washington),” Junior recalled. “That’s just a testament to the work that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History put into making this museum a reality.”
The Museum of Mississippi History will have four major galleries and four theaters showing short films.
“These are complex histories, these are tricky stories, so we really like to use this medium in a way to get contemporary voices into the museum,” said Myers. “So we have scholars and people talking about history which feels different than seeing the artifacts and the displays.”
In addition to the theaters and the galleries, there are two break out sections: Enduring Cultures is about native Choctaw and Chickasaw populations in Mississippi, and Sense of Duty honors Mississippians who have fought in all wars.
On the second floor, visitors will be able to look over the first floor with wire frame workings of the Biloxi Light House, the Mississippi University for Women’s Clock Tower and Port Gibson’s First Presbyterian Church with its golden finger pointed to heaven.
Myers calls it the “Instagram spot.”
Both museums will have areas where people can submit their thoughts in writing and on video.