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Lawmakers continue debate over civil rights museum site

JACKSON — Gov. Haley Barbour’s verbal support for a civil rights museum in Mississippi’s capital has reignited debate over where to place an edifice in honor of the bloody struggle that played out across the South.

A committee of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus held a hearing yesterday at the state Capitol to discuss possible locations for the museum.

However, a commission appointed by Barbour had decided in 2008 that the museum would be built at Tougaloo College in north Jackson, about 10 miles from downtown.

During his State of the State address Jan. 11, Barbour said the museum should be built in downtown Jackson and now is a good time to move forward on the project. Lawmakers seized on the comments, and have begun work on a bond proposal to pay for the museum, which has an estimated cost of about $73 million.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said yesterday that the governor is still discussing the project and its funding with lawmakers.

Yesterday, a pitch was made to locate the museum in Greenwood, a rural town in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, which is one of the most impoverished regions in the country. Still, Leflore County Supervisor Robert Moore said the region’s ties to the movement run too deep to be ignored.

It’s not exactly clear whether the Tougaloo College site chosen by Barbour’s commission is still valid.

Tougaloo President Beverly Hogan said the school is planning to donate nine acres to the project and she questioned the current process. She said the college didn’t know about any change to the location until Barbour’s speech.

Hogan said the college is still the best site because “it’s the cradle and refuge of the movement.” Activists often stayed at the campus when no hotels would accommodate them. The school also was the site of strategic meetings.

State Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said a site in or near downtown Jackson would be better because it could handle the “critical mass” of tourists who would also shop and dine in the area during a visit to the museum. But Horhn said the focus should be on funding, not location.

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