Museum Designs Developed Building

The first of three design phases for exhibits in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (MCRM) and Museum of Mississippi History (MMH) is nearing completion. Exhibit design firms Hilferty & Associates and Design Minds presented their initial designs to the MDAH Board of Trustees for approval at a special meeting on June 22.

Initial designs, or schematic design plans, establish the interpretive blueprint for the exhibits and are the result of historical research, interpretative planning, architectural coordination, and community collaboration. The next phase, design development, fleshes out the storyline established in the first phase with specific names, faces, and facts. Contract documents, the final design phase, are provided to contractors who want to bid on the fabrication of the exhibits.

Community meetings for the MCRM were held this past winter and spring in Cleveland, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Holly Springs, Itta Bena, Jackson, McComb, and Philadelphia to gather suggestions for the museum and stories of local people involved in the civil rights movement. “African American culture is at the very center of American history and culture,” Dr. John Fleming, former executive director of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and consultant for Hilferty & Associates, told the attendants at one meeting. “If we do this right it will tell the whole story, but we can only tell the whole story if you are willing to be an active participant in that process”

Using input gathered from the community meetings, an advisory scholars group, and the MCRM Advisory Commission, Hilferty & Associates developed a schematic plan for the museum. The story of the African American Mississippian’s struggle for freedom and justice will be told through seven thematic galleries arranged around the This Little Light of Mine gallery placed at the center of the museum. Inspired by the gospel song of the same name, the vibrant core area with its sculpture of light is designed to be a place of light and hope.

The schematic design was also presented to the MCRM Advisory Commission and the scholars group for comments.

Design Minds has come up with a plan that organizes Mississippi’s 12,000 years of history into eight chronological exhibits with four breakout galleries. The Community Advisory Committee and core scholar group met in March to review and offer comments on those plans. The finalized schematic plans/conceptual drawings were submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval.

Plans for the two museum buildings are already in the design development phase and are scheduled for completion in August 2012. ECD—a consortium composed of Eley Guild Hardy Associates/Architects; Cooke Douglas Farr Lemons, Ltd., Architects and Engineers; and Dale Partners Architects—and the Freelon Group presented an update at the June 22 meeting. Groundbreaking for the construction of the museum complex is expected to begin in August 2013. The buildings will be constructed at the same time, and the two museums will be connected, allowing cost savings through shared collections storage areas, artifact conservation labs, classroom and auditorium space, parking garage, store, and other features.

Artifacts are a crucial part of the museum experience, and MDAH continues to actively seek items related to Native Americans, African Americans, the woman suffrage movement, and more. The family of slain civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer has loaned bullet-ridden panels from the family’s 1958 pickup truck for use in the MCRM. The damage to the vehicle occurred on January 10, 1966, when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed their Forrest County home. Vernon Dahmer died the next day from injuries sustained in the fire.

“It’s one thing to read about the bombing, but seeing the bullet holes gives visitors a more immediate understanding of what Vernon Dahmer, Sr., and his family endured and the crucial role this truck played saving the other family members,” said Cindy Gardner, MDAH director of collections and MMH project manager.

For more information about donating, contact MDAH at 601-576-6901 or email

The 2012 Mississippi Legislature funded a full-time director for the MCRM. Angela Stewart, archivist, Margaret Walker Center for the Study of the African American Experience, Jackson State University, served as interim project manager February–April of this year. A national search is underway for the position, which will coordinate activities associated with the planning, construction, and opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

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