Civil rights, historical museums pass House

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Legislation passed Wednesday by the Mississippi House would provide $55 million to build a museum of Mississippi history and a civil rights museum in downtown Jackson.
The measure passed 104-16 and now heads to the state Senate. Senate Finance Chair Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, has indicated he supports spending funds this year on the projects.
The projects include a parking garage for the two museums, which would be located adjacent to each other. The work would be financed through state bonds.
The fight over the project on the House floor late Wednesday – and earlier in the day in the Ways and Means Committee – centered on the location of the civil rights museum.
A commission created by Gov. Haley Barbour had recommended in 2007 that the museum be located at Tougaloo College in north Jackson, a private historically black school that was a leader in the civil rights movement.
But a legislative committee formed before the governor’s commission had recommended that the museum be located in downtown Jackson to take advantage of people visiting other nearby sites.
On Wednesday, some House members argued unsuccessfully that the location go back to Tougaloo College.
House Ways and Means Chair Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said beginning the construction process was more important than the location of the museum.
“We have a bill that should go through the process and be adopted by the governor,” Watson said.
“I have wanted for a long time to see this civil rights museum reach a resolution. Please not let us hold up the process.”
The bill would provide $30 million for the civil right museum, $18 million for the museum of history and $7 million for the parking garage.
Officials said previous work has been done on the museum of history and it is shovel-ready. Items have been secured for the museum.
Officials also said money can be saved by locating the museums next to each other. It has been estimated that the civil rights museum will cost $70 million, but that the price can be reduced by making them dual projects, legislators were told.
The civil rights museum has been discussed for years. The project was jump-started this year when Barbour advocated in his state of the state speech that work on the project begin this year.
Barbour also advocated that the location be in downtown Jackson rather than the Tougaloo location advocated by his commission.
On Wednesday, Barbour said he hopes the two projects can be completed by 2017.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.