Unique state museum complex coming

Groundbreaking on the Museum of Mississippi History, on left, and adjoining Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, pictured here in a rendering, will be Thursday in downtown Jackson. (Courtesy photo)

Groundbreaking on the Museum of Mississippi History, on left, and adjoining Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, pictured here in a rendering, will be Thursday in downtown Jackson. (Courtesy photo)

Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Ground will be broken Thursday on a Mississippi museums complex that state officials believe will be unique in America.

Officials and people who had significant influence on the history of the state will participate in the groundbreaking for the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Thursday on North State Street, about five blocks southeast of the Capitol.

Officials with the state Department of Archives and History, who have been working on the project for more than a decade, say they do not know of another instance in the country where two major museums with their own exhibits and artifacts will stand side-by-side connected by a common lobby and auditorium.

Plus, “It will be the first state-operated civil rights museum in the nation,” said H.T. Holmes, director of the Department of Archives and History.

The two museums, totaling 200,000 square feet, could have a price tag of more than $90 million – primarily in state funds – when they open in December 2017 as part of the bicentennial celebration of Mississippi statehood. They’re expected to have a major economic impact on the capital city, as well as transform the skyline of downtown Jackson.

The Civil Rights Museum, for instance, will have 40-foot light structure in the middle that can be seen across the city at night. Visitors to the Civil Rights Museum can experience the light pulsating as they get closer to the structure. The light and the song “This Little Light of Mine” will grow stronger as more people move closer.

Holmes said the light and song honor those who saw the light to fight for civil rights, and “for today it is important to remember that everyone has a little light, and when we come together we can make things happen.”

Archives and History officials have been working toward a Mississippi History Museum since the late 1990s. More than 17,000 artifacts have been gathered for the History Museum from every part of the state. One of the most prized possessions will be a 20-star American flag used for a brief period after Mississippi achieved statehood in December 1817 until a year later when Illinois became part of the Union. The flag, valued at $50,000, will be under tight security, as will an original Bowie knife.

The Civil Rights Museum will cover the period from 1945 until the mid-1970s as the state was embroiled in the issue of equal rights for African-Americans.

“The whole idea is an opportunity to further the reconciliation process,” said Holmes of a museum that will have interactive features to allow input from visitors.

The History Museum will encompass the history of the land from the time of the Indians to the present. Holmes said he is proud of the effort of Archives and History to enlist advisory groups for both museums to make sure all regions and aspects of the state’s history is included, good and bad. State officials still are working to garner additional items for the museum. Of particular need are Native American artifacts, African-American artifacts and items from many different eras.

“These state-of-the art museums will capture that journey along with the earlier struggles as Mississippians formed a state, fought a war, rebuilt an economy and created cultures that still exist today,” said former Gov. William Winter, a longtime member of the Archives and History board of directors. “These stories and memories – this rich history of ours – will be preserved to inform us about the past and inspire us to work together to build a more just, vibrant and healthy Mississippi.”

The Thursday groundbreaking is scheduled for 10 a.m. Events around the groundbreaking will go on from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Gov. Phil Bryrat and Myrlie Evers, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, will be among the participants.

“The two Musuems are the most significant bricks and mortar project the state will undertake to mark the bicentennial of Mississippi’s statehood,” Holmes said. “…I can think of no better way for us to launch our next century of statehood.”

Archive and History estimates that the two museums will have an economic impact of $19 million annually, attract 200,000 visitors per year and generate $2 million to the state general fund.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com