Mississippi has a rich and varied history. It has also been a troubled, even tortured, history at times. We’ve arrived in 2013 – four years short of our bicentennial – as a state still facing enormous challenges but leaps and bounds ahead of where we were a half century ago.
Mississippi has been transformed from a society in which racial discrimination was the legally enforced order of the day and racist violence commonplace to a state with the highest number of black elected officials and some of the most fully integrated public institutions in the nation.
We’ve grown from being an agriculturally dominated economic backwater to a diverse economy that while still fighting a legacy of poverty shows more potential than many states with more economically robust pasts.
And we’ve gone from a region in which education was either an afterthought or completely ignored for many to where it is at the top of the policy agenda.
Everything today must be seen in the context of our history to be fully understood and appreciated. And in a few years, Mississippians and visitors will be able to see the story of Mississippi’s past fully laid out in two new state-of-the-art museums in our capital city of Jackson.
Ground was broken on the 2 Museums project last week, with four governors – the incumbent Republican, Phil Bryant, his Republican predecessor Haley Barbour and Democrats Ronnie Musgrove and William Winter present, along with civil rights icon Myrlie Evers. The adjoining downtown museums are scheduled to open in 2017, the state’s 200th anniversary.
One museum will give the broad sweep of Mississippi history, while one will concentrate on the civil rights movement. The latter is fully appropriate, given the transformative impact that movement had on this state and nation and Mississippi’s central role in it. The Legislature has issued $38 million in bonds for the museums, but the total cost is expected to be around $90 million, so additional state funds and significant private contributions will be necessary.
This is a project all Mississippians can get behind. In addition to being a treasure for Mississippians, these museums will also be a major economic development and image-building enterprise for our state as a cultural tourism destination for people from all over.
Mississippi has a uniquely strong communal bond, even with all the adversity we’ve faced in the past, and probably in part because of it. These museums will be a tangible expression of that bond, and an important symbol of our determination to strengthen it in the future.