By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – A decade ago, the longtime home of Mississippi statesman L.Q.C. Lamar was barely intact.
Its 2004 purchase and subsequent restoration by the Oxford-Lafayette Heritage Foundation secured the structure and opened it to visitors, but the modest collection of pictures and personal items could not adequately present Lamar in context.
The opening of a new interpretive display on Friday now uses the house’s spacious rooms and generous walls to tell the story of a complex man in his complex times.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve worked really hard to make this what we hope will be a major tourism attraction,” said Jim McCauley, chairman of the Oxford Tourism Council.
Researchers for the project included University of Mississippi Provost Emeritus Gerald Walton, history Professors Emeriti David Sansing and Harry Owen, and Jack Lamar Mayfield, a historian who shares a family tree with L.Q.C. Lamar.
“He was an outstanding Mississippian, and his story deserved to be told,” said Darlene Copp, Lamar House program director. “Dr. Sansing has said, ‘There were two very important men from Oxford: William Faulkner is known worldwide, and L.Q.C. Lamar needs to be put on the same level.’ That’s what we aimed for – to produce an exhibit to show how much he contributed.”
Lamar was a scholar who taught disciplines at the university as diverse as mathematics and law. A lawyer with great oratorical talent, he was elected to Congress. As the divide between North and South widened, however, he spearheaded Mississippi’s secession movement and served the Confederacy.
The exhibit does not give Lamar a pass on the gravest wrongs in his life.
“Yes, he was a secessionist, a slave owner and a white supremacist, and we had to deal with that,” Copp said.
After the war ended and his citizenship was restored, however, Lamar served again in the House of Representatives, then became a U.S. senator, a member of the Presidential Cabinet and a U.S. Supreme Court justice. As a senator he delivered a eulogy for his former enemy, Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts – a nation-unifying speech for which John F. Kennedy included Lamar in his book, “Profiles in Courage.”
“He devoted the rest of his life to rebuilding the country, reconciling the country, doing whatever he could to mend the wounds caused by the war that he caused,” Copp said. “That’s the type of political courage that needs to be emulated in all periods of history. … There’s a lot to be learned here.”
The museum is open Fridays and Sundays 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Mondays 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and is free to children 18 and younger.
For information, visit http:// www.oxfordcvb.com/documents /2011FactualSummary.pdf.
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.