Lonely Planet Writer

Mississippi's two new museums are dedicated to civil rights and the state's history

Two new interconnected museums are due to open in Mississippi this weekend that will take visitors on an interactive journey through the vast sweep of Mississippi history.

The exhibition entitled A Closed Society, “Separate is NOT Always Equal” at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
The exhibition entitled A Closed Society, “Separate is NOT Always Equal” at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Located in Jackson, The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will combine interactive visitor experiences with exhibits showcasing a number of significant historic objects. The two new museums aim to expand the way the state’s past is presented, from prehistoric times to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, and both museums will use Mississippi’s rich tradition of storytelling to showcase the compelling lives of ordinary people who made extraordinary contributions to history in the past.

The “This Little Light of Mine Sculpture” at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
The “This Little Light of Mine Sculpture” at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History

“These museums are telling the stories of Mississippi history in all of their complexity,” said Katie Blount, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which operates the two new museums. “We are shying away from nothing. Understanding where we are today is shaped in every way by where we have come from in our past.” Objects on show include a 500-year-old dugout canoe discovered submerged in mud on the bank of a lake, as well as the doors of the Bryant Grocery that 14-year-old Emmett Till walked through before the fateful encounter with a shopkeeper that led to his murder in 1955, an event that galvanized the African American civil rights movement.

Cultural Crossroads 1519–1798, “Natchez Trace and Entrance to Mount Locust Inn” at the Museum of Mississippi History.
Cultural Crossroads 1519–1798, “Natchez Trace and Entrance to Mount Locust Inn” at the Museum of Mississippi History. Image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The two museums share a lobby, auditorium, classrooms, collection storage, and exhibit workshop in a facility that covers a total of 200,000-square feet. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum’s chronicles the events of the movement of eight galleries, including an illustrated timeline of African Americans in Mississippi, slavery, and the origins of the Jim Crow era, while monuments memorialize people who were victims of lynching in the state. The heart of the museum is the third gallery, a central space lit by a light sculpture that plays the museum’s theme song, “This Little Light of Mine”, highlighting people who laid down their lives for the Movement. The next four galleries focus on the years 1945-1975, and visitors will see the mug shots of every Freedom Rider arrested in Mississippi and hear the stories of Civil Rights Veterans such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Vernon Dahmer, and Medgar Evers.

a view of the Black Empowerment gallery at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
A view of the Black Empowerment gallery at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Image by Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The Museum of Mississippi History’s theme is “One Mississippi, Many Stories” and runs throughout eight galleries that explore the many diverse people who contributed to the state’s history to the present day. The museums are due to open with a ceremony beginning at 11 am on 9 December, the culmination of Mississippi’s bicentennial celebration.

More information on visiting the two museums is available at the official Mississippi Department of Archives and History website.