Mississippi civil rights museum break groundAtlanta’s civil rights museum opens next spring

JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum has joined Atlanta and other cities in building edifices dedicated to addressing America’s complex history of race relations.

The $100 million National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, which will focus not just on the history of the civil rights movement but also the ongoing issues of human rights around the world, is scheduled to open next spring near the Coke Museum and the Georgia Aquarium downtown. It will contain 42,000 square feet and have indoor and outdoor learning spaces.

LaTasha Smith, a museum spokesperson, said everything is on schedule and the ribbon will be cut next May 22 on the project, which was first studied in 2005. There will be a weekend of special events to commemorate the opening.

It will join the National Civil Rights Museum, which opened in 1991 in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In Alabama, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opened in 1992. And the National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open in 2015 in the nation’s capital.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, the wife of murdered Mississippi civil rights worker Medgar Evers, expressed satisfication on Mississippi breaking ground on its museum.

“I could not help but think about how far we have come to this point, and how proud I am of Mississippi and how proud I am that these two buildings are going to show the world — not only the state of Mississippi, not only other states, but the world—who we are, where we have been, where we are today and where we are going,” she said.

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,” Holmes said.

The civil rights museum, focusing on 1945-70, will display the rifle that a white supremacist used in 1963 to kill Medgar Evers, whose slaying helped propel the struggle for equality to national attention.

Also, it will have among its displays information 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. Till’s mother allowed photos of his brutalized body to be published, galvanizing the fledgling civil rights movement.

Like many Deep South states, Mississippi had segregated schools and public facilities until the 1960s and 1970s — facilities that people in power once falsely labeled “separate but equal.” Holmes said African-Americans’ stories will be integrated into both museums, not simply segregated into the civil rights segment.

“Stories help connect us. They are how history has been shared and handed down for centuries,” Evers-Williams and Cochran wrote in an essay. “They inspire us, teach us, and, sometimes, embarrass us. Mississippi, in many ways, provides America with a clear look into the mirror.”