EDITORIAL: Civil rights museum

By NEMS Daily Journal

Gov. Haley Barbour’s eighth and final State of the State address on Tuesday challenged Mississippians to act this year on building a civil rights museum of national stature in downtown Jackson.
We agree, and believe that Barbour is in the ultimately advantageous position of influence at this point in his career to lead a wide-reaching effort to raise funds from the private sector – and on both sides of the political aisle.
The Legislature, at the urging of a special commission Barbour appointed, authorized a civil rights museum in 2007, but no money was appropriated and there’s been no agreement on a location.
Jackson is the logical site because, as the capital, it is symbolically the center of our state – arguably in the past the most resistant in acknowledging full civil rights for all.
The projected cost of a museum is $50 million – approximately the same cost as the new law school at the University of Mississippi and which was partly underwritten with private donations.
Museums capture and preserve for posterity the important articles and archives of culture and history.
The civil rights era is as definitive in Mississippi’s history as the Civil War. As Barbour noted, 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first “freedom riders” who came to energize the state’s African-American communities, and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Mississippi was the second state to secede and was a principal battleground of the war from 1861 to 1865.
Tennessee and Alabama, whose civil rights history is similar in intensity to Mississippi’s, both have major civil rights museums/memorials visited by thousands of people every year.
Jackson, in fact, bears similarities to Birmingham, where the civil rights museum is sited in the context of a civil rights district that includes a museum, an acclaimed and dramatic sculpture park, and the church where a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed three young girls attending Sunday School.
Mississippi has had more than its share of death and violence, including the 1963 assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers outside his Jackson home, and in 1964, the Klan murder of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County near Philadelphia.
Barbour, a potential GOP presidential candidate, was considered Washington’s leading lobbyist before returning to Mississippi to seek the governorship.
He knows how to open doors and pocketbooks for the causes in which he believes, and a civil rights museum requires that level of expertise.
Mississippi would benefit greatly if Barbour could spearhead a successful fundraising effort before he leaves office in 2012.