Visitors get an ‘amazing, emotional’ look at Mississippi’s history – good and bad

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Viewers look at an exhibit on the Voting Rights Act.

Anxious ticket-holders for the opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which sold out within 24 hours, finally set their eyes on the exhibits Saturday.

The 200,000 square-foot center contains more than 22,000 historical artifacts, photographs and documents, collected by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, featured between the two museums.

The re-creation of a Delta juke joint

Observers at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which focuses on the struggle for equal rights from 1945 to 1976, were impressed with the interactive exhibits.

“It was amazing and emotional. I’ve been to the African-American museum in Washington D.C., and I think this is right up there with that,” said Cedric Sturdevant of Jackson.

“I’m grateful that they brought [interactive exhibits] to Mississippi so I don’t have to travel to D.C. to get information like that. I’m very much looking forward to bringing my grand daughter back. Whoever did the graphics did an awesome job,” Sturdevant said.

The rotunda is one of the museum’s focal points, highlighted by the This Little Light of Mine sculpture towering in the center of the room; as onlookers admired the illuminated flame-like fixture, the song with the same name as the sculpture echoed between the walls, which themselves are decorated with the faces of the civil rights movement.

John Bouie II ran for U.S. Congress this past election in District 2, Gulfport.

“I think that the museum has really envisioned the mind for the next generation to come. I feel like this will be a starting point for the younger generations to understand what everyone has gone through in the past 200 years of Mississippi being in the Union,” said Bouie.

“With this being the very forefront, where you can visualize and touch the words embedded into the museum. If the younger generation around the country can use Mississippi as a platform to understand the legacy that is being left behind them, then we’ll be in a greater place.”

 The center is the first state-sponsored civil rights museum in the country.

A view from upstairs of the Museum of Mississippi History

The Museum of Mississippi History examines life in Mississippi from 13,000 B.C. to the present day, starting with the First Peoples. The timeline also incorporates topics such as the clash between the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and the early United States, the “Cotton Kingdom”, the first bottled Coca-Cola, the Great Depression’s impact on Mississippi, and many others.

“I was impressed. When I was a kid they had the history museum in the capital which was all Confederate [exhibits], but this is more depictive of the history, this is much better. They did a great job. I’ll come back. I’m glad to see my tax dollars working,” said Nathaniel Williams of Jackson.

A section of the museum was dedicated to James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi.

The construction of the new attractions, which the state spent $90 million towards, broke ground in 2013.

Jackson’s Jimmy James was also impressed with the state’s latest addiction.

“It did a good job, it covered a lot of history. And I think it’s about time they did it. I’ve been to a lot of civil rights exhibits and I try to show them to my kids. This is one of the best one’s I’ve been to,” said James.

Alroy Montgomery of Holmes County came Saturday to honor his parents who he said helped African Americans register to vote in the early 60s.

“I’m here to celebrate my mother and father. That’s the only reason I’m here,” Montgomery said.

The Vietnam veteran said that he left the state after the service and moved to Chicago and just moved back a few months ago.

“It’s kind of hard to accept, with as hard as my mother worked and as hard as she tried to get equality for us, that we’re still separated in 2017. … Maybe we can get the people to try to be one instead of all this rhetoric, all this hatred. We need to try to do better by each other,” Montgomery added.

Supporters hope the museums can help with that.

“These museums are telling the stories of Mississippi history in all of their complexity,” said Katie Blount, director of the MDAH. “We are shying away from nothing. Understanding where we are today is shaped in every way by where we have come from in our past.”

An exhibit about voting rights for African Americans