Two of Mississippi’s most significant museums are opening under one roof soon, providing a space to explore the entire sweep of the state’s history, 15,000 years to be exact. The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will open their shared door to the public on December 9 with an opening ceremony on the plaza out front at 11am.
Located on North Street adjacent to the William F. Winter Archives and History Building, the new museums will share a common front plaza and lawn, as well as a shared lobby. Once inside, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will be to the right. The Museum’s executive director is Pamela Junior, who was previously director of the Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson. “I’m really excited about how the museum is coming along,” says Junior, grinning as she turns around in the grand hallway of the museum. “This is the Mississippi Freedom Struggle timeline, from 1619 to 1850. It depicts the world view on one side, explaining what was happening around the world while on the other side, you get the timeline of what was happening in Mississippi.”
Junior walks to the opening of a cavernous space that soars the height of the building. “This will be the centerpiece of the museum,” she smiles. “It will feature a 37-foot-high sculpture entitled “This Little Light of Mine,” and it will have fiberglass blades that reach out, then intertwine with one another. The idea is that we all come together and become one people.” The sculpture was inspired by Civil Rights leader Bob Moses, who wrote a letter in 1961 after being jailed in Magnolia, Mississippi for his part in a voter registration drive. “This is Mississippi, the middle of the iceberg,” he wrote. “This is a tremor in the middle of the iceberg – from a stone that the builders rejected.” Junior explains that as people walk into the gallery, the blades will begin to light up, one by one.
Cindy Gardner, site administrator for the two museums, says that she has been the project manager since day one. “It’s been a true learning experience,” she says. “Not only learning about all that goes into building two world-class museums, but learning about our state’s history as each exhibit has been developed.” Gardner points out that fabric panels printed with key people who were involved in the Civil Rights struggle will be mounted up the rounded walls of the main gallery surrounding the sculpture. “It’s going to be a powerful thing to see and experience.”
The Museum of Mississippi History is on the other side of the building, under the direction of Rachel Myers. “I think people are going to walk in and be so proud of this building,” Myers beams. “I am personally excited that the State has lifted and elevated its history in this way. Right off the bat, folks will be hit with 15,000 years of history in a nine minute film in the orientation theatre. From there, they step back into time to prehistoric times and progress on through to today.”
The museum is divided into 11 galleries, and three breakout thematic galleries. The galleries are organized by a timeline, for example, 1866 to 1902, “The World Remade;” 1903 to 1927, “Promise and Peril;” and 1928 to 1945, “Bridging Hardship” and so on. There are four films throughout the museum that stop visitors for a more in-depth presentation. “The honest, true-forward representation of Mississippi History and how to embrace that history is what this museum is all about,” says Myers. She points out that upstairs includes displays about Mississippi’s statehood.
The two museums have been in the works for over a decade, and Myers states that both are a testament to the amazing collection of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “They have had thousands of artifacts that they have done a great job of preserving, locked up for all these years,” says Myers. More than 22,000 artifacts will be on display in the two museums. “It is my goal for people to find something familiar and perhaps nostalgic, and also something new.”
The cost to visit the museums is $8 each, or $12 to tour both on the same day. “We are already booking school groups,” says Katy Blount, director of the Department of Archives and History. “This will be a huge learning tool for the school children of Mississippi, and we hope they will leave with a beloved appreciation for our state.” But first, Blount wants as many people as possible to come to the grand opening on December 9. “We’ll have food trucks and entertainment all day, and admission to the museum the first two days will be free. People simply have to go online to twomississippimuseums.com to get a free ticket. Only ticketed visitors will be allowed to enter. All the other museums downtown will be open as well, the Old and New Capitol buildings, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and more, so we are hoping folks will come and make a weekend of it.”