In 2011, the Mississippi State Legislature authorized initial funding for the 2Mississippi Museums project, which includes the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Both will be located in downtown Jackson on the same block as the William F. Winter Archives and History Building. The complex is being designed by ECD—an architectural consortium composed of Eley Guild Hardy; Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons, Ltd.; and Dale Partners—in consultation with the Freelon Group.
In 2012, staff members from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) toured the state meeting with Civil Rights Movement veterans and other interested citizens. In Holly Springs, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Hattiesburg, McComb, and other communities, MDAH staff and exhibit teams (Hilferty Museum Planning and Design) listened to stories of local people who were at the forefront of the Mississippi movement. “People were thrilled when they came,” said Gayle Tart, Gulfport meeting participant. “I am so happy that our story is going to be told. Mississippi is our history too.”
The meetings helped the exhibit team understand how the story should be told. “By holding focus group meetings in communities around the state, we were able to get a strong sense of the values these communities want preserved,” said Dr. John Fleming, exhibit team consultant. “We consistently heard that above all else, tell the truth.”
Myrlie Evers-Williams, former chair of the NAACP, widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and a member of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Scholars Committee, said, “Medgar’s story and the stories of thousands of others will be preserved and honored in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. By understanding what others did, future generations will be inspired to continue the hard work for equality and justice.”
On December 1, 2012 the MDAH hired Jacqueline K. Dace to serve as Project Manager for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. With much fanfare and with participation from community members, politicians, business leaders and several veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, the Groundbreaking for the two museums was held on October 24, 2013. The museums are on schedule to open in time for the celebration of Mississippi’s Bicentennial in 2017.
The 2Mississippi Museums are designed under one room and will share several areas of common space, including an auditorium, a museum store, reception area, classrooms space and an underground parking garage. The structure offer approximately 50,000 square feet of permanent and temporary exhibition space. Conference rooms and administrative office space will be separate for each museum. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (MCRM) will consist of 17,700 square feet of permanent exhibition space and 4,000 square feet of temporary exhibition space. The MCRM will provide background and context for the people and events that comprised the modern civil rights movement within the state. The galleries will feature Explore Mississippi sites, which will encourage people to tour other destinations throughout the state for additional information. The galleries will further feature a National Timeline to place Mississippi into context with what was happening throughout the nation. Even the site of the $90 million museum complex is part of the story being told by the museums: The buildings overlook the Mississippi state fairgrounds where civil rights activists were arrested and herded into cattle pens to await transfers to overcrowded jails during the civil rights movement.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will feature eight galleries of exhibits encircling a central gallery. This Little Light of Mine, which will serve as an entryway to the other exhibits. This central gallery will carry the theme of the entire museum: throughout Mississippi, ordinary people engaged in the extraordinary struggle to make real America’s promise of equal rights for all. The focus time-period for the MCRM is 1945 to the mid-1970s. However, a historical framework will be established within the first gallery to set the stage on how civil and human rights are constructed and applied. Visitors will explore constitutional issues and get an understanding of Mississippi through the end of slavery.
Dace stated that, “The MCRM will focus on the Mississippi story and the people who lived within the state and took action to change, not only their Civil and Human Rights, but the Civil and Human Rights of the generations to follow.”
“The MCRM will share the stories of the actual people who put their lives on the line on a daily basis,” Dace added. “The MCRM will not pull-punches with the historical record. It is critical that visitors understand that the struggle for Civil Rights was often graphic, unpleasant and will make some people uncomfortable. However, it is important that we maintain the honesty of the story and tell it in its full complexity for the visitor to completely understand the experience.”