JACKSON, Miss.—Telling the story of your state is the mission of two museums going up on the hill beside the Old Capitol in Jackson. The groundbreaking of the Mississippi History Museum and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum was nearly one year ago. Now there’s progress being made toward their 2017 opening.
That’s the year Mississippi will be 200 years old, that is if you count the years the state spent as part of the Confederacy.
Getting the museums to the construction phase has actually been a near-30-year journey. It started in the 1980s, with the idea of a Civil Rights museum that started with an exhibit at the Old Capitol Miss. History Museum.
The idea of a full on museum really got going in 2001, but stalled in 2008 for several reasons. When then-Gov. Haley Barbour brought the matter to the legislature in 2011, some of the funding eventually came down from the state.
“I want to particularly thank Gov. (William) Winter and Gov. Barbour for working together,” said Gov. Phil Bryant at last year’s groundbreaking, “Gov. Barbour helping lead the way, Gov. Winter always stalwart in his determination to get this accomplished. These two men have been partners. I believe they exemplify Mississippi and how we all work together today for the greater good.”
With plenty of praise being heaped on Winter and Barbour, it was Judge Reuben Anderson, the first African-American justice on the state Supreme Court and who serves on the Board of Trustees of the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History, who reminded those at the groundbreaking that the state did not fund the entire project.
“When the legislation was passed authorizing the construction of these museums, the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History was asked to raise some private dollars to match the public money,” said Anderson. “These private dollars were for the exhibits in the museum. The Foundation for Mississippi History and the Civil Rights Museum committed to raising $14 million.”
Anderson noted that the museums would share a lobby, but that the Civil Rights Museum would have a unique distinction.
“This will be the first state-operated civil Rights museum in the nation,” he said.
For however much ends up being spent on the project in all, Mississippi will be getting two state-of-the-art facilities, with a multimedia experience, and a hope that the museums will be a draw for tourists.
If you go to where the museums are being built today, about one year after the beginning, you’ll see a hefty concrete framework stretching over the hill and down to Jefferson St. You’ll hear saws and heavy trucks. You’ll see cranes lifting large beams, and you’ll probably get an idea that the two museums will be finished by their 2017 mandate.
While several sites were considered for the Civil Rights Museum, putting the two together and funding both at the same time seemed to make the most sense to legislators.
“The Miss. Development Authority tells me this will attract more than 180,000 visitors each year,” said Bryant. The yearly economic impact is expected at $ 17.1 million.