By Judy Smith
The Civil Rights Movement was a very pivotal time in the nation’s history. There were many conflicts and battles for all races to heard and viewed as equals, and many of those battles occurred in the state of Mississippi. Many heroes fighting for equal rights for all arose from the “Magnolia State,” and Mississippi is finally giving the much-needed attention to this crucial time while also praising the leaders that fought for change, even paying the ultimate price for this cause.
On December 9, 2017, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will open to the public in Jackson with a grand celebration and will offer free admission the entire weekend. Through the museum, future generations will learn of the struggles that their ancestors faced to receive equal rights, and the work and challenges that still remain will be emphasized to inspire future generations to take up the torch and continue working for positive changes. By informing and engaging the community and visitors on the conversation and struggles of equal rights for all, visitors will be inspired by the bravery and tireless work of so many that fought for this cause and for the chance for African American citizens to be heard and given the same rights as all citizens.
As the second-oldest state department of archives and history in the United States, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History will display the history that it has stored for many generations, including Mississippi Civil Rights collections and resources that the archival staff has preserved to ensure that the voices and struggles of so many brave people will forever be heard.
Pamela Junior, director of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, is very passionate about her work and is excited to see this dream come to life. The planning stages of the museum were began in the legislature during Governor Haley Barbour’s administration. As the plans came together, the museum began to take shape and will forever shine a light on the state’s role during this crucial time in our state’s history, literally. When visitors enter the museum, they will be greeted by a 40-foot tall statue holding a flickering light. As one visitor comes in, the light will begin to flicker, and as others come in the light will continue to grow larger and flicker more and will be accompanied by the beautiful strains of “This Little Light of Mine,” beginning with children singing and will lead to an overwhelming crescendo of a full choir. The statue holds great significance for visitors and is very close to Junior’s heart.
“As the light grows and gets stronger, that symbolizes how much stronger we are as a state and a country when we join forces and work together,” Junior said. “I think that will be a very moving, tribute to so many heroes that helped and fought in the struggle for civil rights. When we are diversified, we are not as effective, but when we come together as one, we are so much stronger.”
The passion Junior holds for the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and of the African American culture is very apparent when she excitedly talks of the many aspects that the museum will offer visitors. There will be three theaters showing presentations that will honor some of the leading figures of this time that lost their lives during this struggle, including Medgar Evers, a leader in the Jackson area for the Civil Rights Movement; Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy, that was savagely beaten and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman; and Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, civil rights workers that came to Mississippi to help educate the African American youth of the area and help African American citizens in preparations of enrolling for the right to vote but were cruelly killed for their noble work. These individuals helped to bring national attention to the state and the battles that were being fought within the borders of the “Magnolia State.”
“These are very graphic images but true presentations about these people and their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and our history,” Junior said. “All of the exhibits will display the struggles fought during this time and pay homage to those that fought for change, often giving up their own lives so that everyone would receive the same rights and freedoms.”
Junior’s main hopes for the museum is that it will accomplish many things, such as educating present and future generations about the struggles of their ancestors and will enlighten visitors that they can still contribute and help make positive changes in their communities and the state. But more than anything, Junior hopes the museum brings out the truth, however hard it may be to look back on, and continue a dialogue about this movement that has been silenced for way too long.
“As we work to bring the truth to our visitors, I think they will experience an awakening about this time in our state’s history as we bring out the truth—the good, bad and ugly parts of it,” Junior said. “I think visitors will experience a feeling of renewal as they see that there is still work to be done. I hope visitors are inspired to make their own positive changes in the community in whatever way they can. Although there is a lot of tragedy that is brought out about the state during this time, I think there is also a spirit of rejuvenation and renewal as we are inspired to continue the work of our ancestors.”
Junior feels that much can be learned from a visit to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and hopes that visitors come away with a greater knowledge and education of this pivotal time of the state’s history. The lynchings, the assinations, and the cruel murders that occurred during this time will be displayed through the exhibits. The museum hopes to present the truth about this time—not a sugar-coated version of the truth, but the very real, raw, and terrible emotions that accompany this truth. Another primary goal of the museum is to keep the conversation and dialogue alive about the struggles that occurred in Mississippi and the nation while also praising the work of those that paid the ultimate price so that future generations would all share the same rights and freedoms.
“It makes you stop and think, ‘Is there anything or any cause that I would give up my life for?’” Junior said. “That really makes you stop and think and have even more respect for those that were willing to do so. So many noble people paid that ultimate price or faced ostracization from society as many families turned their backs on members of their own family because they were fighting for a cause that they didn’t believe in. That takes great bravery and courage to fight for the rights of others, knowing that you might lose your own life in those battles. It is a very awe-inspiring thought and idea that we hope to bring out in the museum.”
For Junior, she hopes the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum helps to keep the light shining that past generations tirelessly fought for. She loves to educate children about the heroes that fought for Civil Rights in Mississippi, sharing the stories of their bravery and courage in hopes of inspiring them to keep working to bring about positive changes while helping to build a stronger, more united community and state.
“I hope the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum empowers others to do great things using their talents and abilities by helping out in any way they can in their own communities and the state,” Junior said. “We hope to be the nucleus of the truth about this very important time and how we were all affected those struggles. When we work as one, we are so much stronger and can get so much more accomplished together. I hope our history speaks out loudly to visitors, showing them the struggles that were fought for Civil Rights and giving a voice to the work that still remains. I truly hope people come away from a visit to the museum feeling inspired to do their part in making state the best Mississippi that we can be.”