Cindy Gardner displays a flag to go in the Miss. history museum. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP)
Jackson, Miss. — Mississippi breaks ground today on side-by-side museums that are expected to break ground of their own in how they depict the Southern state once rocked by racial turmoil, one promising a frank focus on civil rights and the other a sweep of history from pre-European settlements to Elvis Presley and more.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History — two museums under the same roof— are scheduled to open in Jackson in 2017, the state’s bicentennial.
Hank Holmes, director of the state Department of Archives and History, said the exhibits won’t minimize the parts of the past that some might consider embarrassing or uncomfortable. “There is no sugar coating,” he said.
The two museums will have more than 200,000 square feet combined and are to be built not far from the Capitol in Jackson.
The state has committed $40 million, and Holmes said officials are trying to raise $14 million in private donations.
The civil rights museum, focusing on 1945-70, will display the rifle that a white supremacist used in 1963 to kill Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader whose slaying helped propel the struggle for equality to national attention.
The rifle has been on temporary display the past few months at the state archives building, next door to the future museums’ site, as part of an exhibit commemorating Evers’ legacy and the 50th anniversary of his death.
The civil rights museum will have a display about the 1955 slaying of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American from Chicago who was said to have whistled at a white woman in a rural Mississippi grocery store. Till was kidnapped, badly beaten and shot in the head, and his body dumped in the Tallahatchie River.