U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker announced the award of more than $1.3 million in federal grants to support four Civil Rights preservation projects across Mississippi.
The National Park Service (NPS) approved the funding for Mississippi as part of its Fiscal Year 2017 “African American Civil Rights Grants Program” awards. Cochran and Wicker wrote letters of support on behalf of the Mississippi grantees. The awards include: $500,000 for the Wechsler School in Meridian; $499,534 for the Phoenix Naval Stores Office in Gulfport; $284,000 for the Isaiah T. Montgomery House in Mound Bayou; and $50,000 for the Marks Mule Train and MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign Interpretive Trail in Marks.
The Mississippi awards are among the $12.6 million awarded by the NPS for 51 projects in 24 states that preserve African American Civil Rights history. A news release stated that Cochran was instrumental in establishing funding for Civil Rights projects though the NPS Historic Preservation Fund. After the announcement, Cochran said that it’s important to maintain these sites.
“Time has taken a toll on many sites important to the advancement of the civil rights and justice in Mississippi. These grants will be leveraged with public and private funding to save these sites and, in many cases, repurpose them for community-building and educational activities,” Cochran said. “I am pleased the National Park Service is making these investments in our state.”
Wicker says that the funds show Mississippi’s continued efforts to preserve these sites that honor the civil rights movement.
“Mississippi has made great strides to preserve important civil rights sites and our shared history,” Wicker said. “I am pleased that the National Park Service has awarded grants to support the renovation and preservation of these civic and cultural markers.”
An itemized breakdown of the funds was included in the release.
- The Wechsler School, Meridian – $500,000. The Wechsler School was the first brick public school built for African-American children in east Mississippi. The Wechsler Foundation proposes to rehabilitate a 1951 school building for use by students for virtual field trips to learn more about the Civil Rights era in the Meridian area. Project phases include renovation of auditorium and dining hall/multipurpose room, new mechanical and electrical systems.
- Old Phoenix Naval Store, Gulfport – $499,534. The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain plans to restore the Phoenix Naval Stores Office as a community center for the Gulfport’s Turkey Creek neighborhood. This structure is one of the last vestiges of a thriving timber industry on the coast which employed many African Americans. The plant thrived until a fatal explosion in the 1940s killed 11 men and closed the plant. The facility was used as private residence before being abandoned. The site was listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi in 2015.
- The Isaiah T. Montgomery House, Mound Bayou – $284,000. The Mississippi Heritage Trust (MHT) proposes restoring the home built in 1910 by Isaiah T. Montgomery, who was born into slavery and worked after the Civil Ware to secure African Americans protection of the law. Montgomery led fellow freed slaves to establish the all black community of Mound Bayou in 1887. As Mound Bayou grew, the home served as a private residence, civic space, and home to African American medical professionals from the nearby Taborian Hospital. MHT intends to repair the home’s exterior and renovate interior rooms for use as a retreat center and museum.
- Marks Mule Train and MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign Interpretive Trail, Marks –$50,000. The Quitman County Board of Supervisors applied for this grant to support the design and installation of 11 interpretive markers at key sites related to visits by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the Poor People’s Campaign’s “Marks Mule Train.” This project would help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Mule Train’s 1968 journey from Marks, Miss., to Washington, D.C.
Last year, the NPS awarded s $500,000 preservation grant for the Tallahatchie County Courthouse. These funds were approved to support installation of interactive digital displays and exhibit systems to tell the story of the Emmett Till murder and trial, which helped spur the Civil Rights Movement. The Historic Natchez Foundation also received a $50,000 history grant to research, interpret, and preserve civil rights history in Natchez and Adams County.