By BECKY GILLETTE
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History recently held a sneak preview of the long-anticipated two Mississippi Museums — the new Museum of Mississippi History (MMH) and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (MCRM) at 222 North St. Groundbreaking on the museums was in October 2013, and the work to obtain artifacts that illustrate the state’s rich history has been ongoing since 1902.
Construction of the museums is on schedule and they are planned to open Saturday, Dec. 9, in time to mark the state’s bicentennial.
“Currently construction of the building is winding down and will end in late July,” said Chris Goodwin, director, Public Information Section, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH).”In the meantime, 1220 of Nashville, Tenn., the fabrication firm for the Mississippi Museum of History, and Exhibit Concepts, Inc., of Vandalia, Ohio, the fabrication firm for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, began installing cases, murals, and other exhibit components in May and will finish in early fall.”
Staff for both museums plan to move into the building in August.
The artifacts, which are currently in climate-controlled storage, will also be moved then and will be stored in the new collections facilities on lower levels of the building in preparation for their installation, which will begin in September.
The Mississippi Legislature provided $90 million for the museums while requiring dollar-per-dollar matching funds for exhibits. Private fundraising for the project by Foundation for Mississippi History has been even more successful than initially expected.
“Our fundraising efforts have been enormously successful and we have met our initial fundraising goal of $17 million in gifts and pledges for exhibits and endowment,” Goodwin said.
“However, we continue to raise funds for marketing, opening and educational programming including student visits. We have also launched our 2 Museums Membership program. Members will receive a full year of unlimited admission to the MMH and the MCRM and receive other benefits. By joining by Aug.1 , members will receive a charter membership and receive a priority pass for opening day and a commemorative card.”
The two Mississippi Museums will be a place where Mississippi’s rich, complex history is told through the stories of the people who have lived in the state.
“These stories will be told through the many resources from the collection of the MDAH,” Goodwin said. “We will present the history of our state as never before with eye-popping artifacts, photographs, videos, and interactive exhibits.”
Goodwin said the 200,000-square-foot museums will combine state-of-the-art interactive visitor experiences with exhibits showcasing about 22,000 artifacts including a 500-year-old dugout canoe, a rare 20-star U.S. flag from 1818, and a set of flip flops worn by a Freedom Rider while imprisoned in the Hinds County Jail.
“Both museums will use Mississippi’s rich tradition of storytelling to showcase the compelling lives of ordinary people who made extraordinary contributions to the state and the nation,” he said.
“The Museum of Mississippi History explores the state from prehistoric times to present day through 12 galleries. The museum follows large and complex storylines, from European contact with Native Americans to the rise of slavery and King Cotton, and from the broken promises of Reconstruction to the devastation of the Great Flood of 1927 — as well as wars at home and abroad. These stories are made personal through the world’s finest collection of Mississippi artifacts.”
There will be a wide diversity of exhibits ranging from Native Americans stone vessels carved thousands of years ago to famed author Eudora Welty’s manual typewriter to music from famous Mississippi-born musicians including Muddy Waters, Tammy Wynette, and Jimmy Buffett.
Goodwin said the Civil Rights Museum will chronicle the pivotal role of the struggle for equal rights through eight interactive galleries that show the systematic oppression of black Mississippians during the Jim Crow era and their fight for equality that captured attention across the country. There will be an exhibit from Freedom Riders telling about their arrests and experiences in prison, and the names of every person known to have been lynched in Mississippi will be etched into columns throughout the museum.
One highlight of the MCRM will be an open central space defined by a soaring sculpture that will light up and play music when people approach it. “This Little Light of Mine” honors Mississippi’s grassroots civil rights veterans and celebrates the potential within every person to make a difference.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will be the only state-operated civil rights museum in the nation.
Yolanda Clay-Moore, public relations manager, Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the two new museums will have a tremendous positive impact on cultural tourism not only in Jackson, but throughout the state.
“Many visitors have followed the Civil Rights and Civil War Trails and stop just short of Jackson,” Clay-Moore said.
“Now Jackson will be added to that list. We’ve always had a great product, but now the museums will serve as a spotlight. The museums are designed to tell our story, but it plants a seed that can be nourished by visiting the physical locations seen in the museums.
“This impact will be expanded economically as visitors follow these trails and desire to see more of our city. Jackson is the perfect backdrop for these phenomenal additions to welcome these new cultural visitors.”
The site administrator for the two Museums is Cindy Gardner. Pamela Junior is director of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, and Rachel Myers is director of the Museum of Mississippi History.
“We could not ask for a better group to head up these world-class museums,” said MDAH Director Katie Blount. “Cindy Gardner has been a guiding hand for the project from the start, and Pamela Junior and Rachel Myers bring a wealth of experience and energy that will help connect the museums to all Mississippians.”
MDAH began collections of items that will be used in the museum back in 1902. Thousands of Mississippians have donated artifacts, journals, family heirlooms, and other treasures. MDAH is the second-oldest state department of archives and history in the United States. For more about the museums, visit http://give2mississippimuseums.com.