Two Museums Project Update: New Website Launched

The Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum projects are in high gear as the department has been coordinating community meetings around the state, collecting artifacts, and raising funds for exhibits through the Foundation for Mississippi History. The foundation has launched a campaign to raise at least $12 million in private funding for the two museums–$8 million for exhibits and a $2 million endowment for each of the museums.

Public meetings for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (MCRM) began early this year and will continue through April. Hilferty & Associates, the firm hired to develop exhibits for the civil rights museum, met with MDAH staff and members of the Legislative Black Caucus in January to review and discuss preliminary exhibit plans. MDAH director H.T. Holmes asked caucus members to help the department make contact with civil rights movement veterans and other citizens around the state with stories to tell or artifacts to donate. In February the department held a focus group meeting with Jackson-area leaders at Tougaloo College and public meetings in McComb and Hattiesburg.

Over the coming weeks a series of meetings will be held at sites across the state. The first will be on Tuesday, April 3, at 6 p.m. on the Mississippi Valley State University campus in Itta Bena. Dr. Marvin Haire, director of the Delta Research and Cultural Institute and member of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Advisory Commission, will serve as local host, and Hilferty & Associates will facilitate the meeting.

On Wednesday, April 4, at 11:30 a.m. a meeting will be held at the Beckley Conference Center at Rust College in Holly Springs. Rust College president Dr. David L. Beckley, Holly Springs mayor Andre DeBerry, and executive director and founder of the Hill Country Project Dr. Roy De Berry, will be the local hosts, and Hilferty & Associates will again facilitate the meeting.

The Philadelphia Coalition and the Community Development Partnership will host a meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 17 at 5:30 p.m. at the restored historic train depot. The University of Mississippi’s William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation will facilitate the meeting. Meetings in Cleveland and Gulfport are being planned.

“These meetings are about listening to the public,” said Lucy Allen, MDAH Museums Division director. “Hilferty, the Department of Archives and History, and the MCRM team want to hear from people across the state and incorporate their voices and stories—tragic, uplifting, and unflinching—because the museum will only be as good as the input.”

Angela Stewart is the interim project manager for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum through April 30. Stewart has served as the archivist for the Margaret Walker Center for the Study of the African-American Experience at Jackson State University since 2004. One of Stewart’s responsibilities has been organizing the community meetings.

“We were glad to have Linda VanZandt from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Oral History at the meetings in Hattiesburg and McComb,” said Stewart. “Many community members, including civil rights movement veterans, came to the meetings and shared their stories and experiences. We will depend on their oral history recordings in planning museum exhibits.”

MDAH staff and exhibit team members will also be on hand to answer questions about oral history interviews and artifact donations at the upcoming meetings. The department holds the world’s finest collection of objects related to Mississippi’s history, but there are some areas where more artifacts are being sought. In order to tell the most complete story possible, the department is actively searching for items related to Native Americans, African Americans, the woman suffrage movement, and more (See complete list inset). All donated items will be preserved to meet the highest professional standards using the state-of-the art collection care facility planned for the two museums.

The Community Advisory Committee and core scholars group for the Museum of Mississippi History met in March in Jackson. The exhibit firm Design Minds presented the first round of design and content plans to the group for review. The plans will also draw from the input gathered at the fifteen community meetings held in 2005 across the state and with Chickasaw and Choctaw leaders in Oklahoma.

On March 22 the department held the first major fundraising event for the two museums project at the Old Capitol Museum. The ticketed gala gave donors a special viewing of the rare Twenty-star Flag that flew over the United States only in 1818, the year after Mississippi became the twentieth state. Supporters also enjoyed a sneak preview of the special exhibit “A Walk through History,” which features iconic artifacts from the department’s collection. The exhibit is on display at the Old Capitol through April 29.

The Department of Finance and Administration’s Bureau of Building, Grounds, and Real Property will oversee construction of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History, with the goal of opening both in 2017 as centerpieces of the state’s bicentennial celebration. The two museums will be constructed side by side on state-owned land next to the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in downtown Jackson. Architects and design firms have been selected and are developing plans for the buildings and exhibits.

Governor Haley Barbour and the 2011 Legislature worked together to provide $40 million in bond funding for the projects. Total cost of the two museums is expected to top $70 million. Construction of the two museums, parking garage, and museum complex is scheduled to begin in 2013 and take three years.

The Mississippi Development Authority has estimated the two museums will draw approximately 200,000 visitors and have an economic impact of nearly $19 million in their first year. Additionally, the construction of the two museums will create an estimated 500 jobs, $19 million in wages, and $2 million to the state’s general fund over the life of the project.

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