By Jerry Mitchell — The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is getting rave reviews so far.
“I’ve seen all the major civil rights museums in the South,” said historian John Dittmer, author of “Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi,” “and this one is the most impressive.”
The museum is the only state-funded civil rights museum in the U.S.
Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, spoke Saturday about the tears she shed after witnessing photographs inside the museum. She praised it and the adjacent History of Mississippi Museum as “jewels” that show Mississippi can lead the way.
The state spent $90 million on the two museums. Another $19 million was raised in private donations for the exhibits.
Liz Willen, editor of The Hechinger Report, wrote in her column that some people avoid Mississippi because of its dark past.
“The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is a reason to go — and to learn,” she wrote.
She described how the state had spilled out its racist history in unsparing detail, concluding that the new museum is “a real game changer for education.”
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation is providing more than $1 million in funding to help all of Mississippi’s students travel to and tour the civil rights museum and the history museum.
Civil rights veteran Joyce Ladner spent five hours Saturday going through the civil rights museum.
“It was an overwhelming experience. During the movement, we never stopped to think about there being a museum,” said Ladner, who was mentored by Medgar Evers and Clyde Kennard, wrongfully imprisoned for trying to enroll at the then all-white University of Southern Mississippi.
Mississippi native W. Ralph Eubanks said the museum does a good job of appealing to students. “I’d like to see less visual stimuli, but I’m of a different generation,” he said.
For him, the museum opened a floodgate of memories.
“There’s a life-size figure of (Mississippi NAACP leader) Dr. Gilbert Mason,” said Eubanks, whose memoir, “Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past,” details growing up in this difficult period. “He was my Eagle Scout sponsor.”
When he saw the doors of the Bryant Grocery, which Emmett Till entered on that fateful day in August 1955, “I was frozen there,” he said.
“When you see the rifle that killed Medgar Evers, it’s chilling,” he said. “It was also chilling to see the parts of the truck in the Vernon Dahmer firebombing.”
Dahmer died in the 1966 attack, and the Ku Klux Klan leader who ordered the firebombing, Sam Bowers, was finally convicted in 1998.
M.J. O’Brien, author of “We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-In and the Movement It Inspired,” said the civil rights museum is “world class,” using intelligence and creativity to appeal to people of all ages.
“It’s going to serve Mississippi well to have this museum that attempts to tell the whole story of what happened during those very difficult years,” he said.
Filmmaker Loki Mulholland said Monday that he has been to the “National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, The Human Rights Museum in Atlanta and the National African-American Museum in D.C. and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is the best one yet.”
Each museum has its purpose, “but if I’m going by visceral and emotional impact I would put the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on the top of the list,” said Mulholland, whose documentary, An Ordinary Hero, tells the story of his mother, Joan, a Freedom Rider who was imprisoned for her civil rights activities.
He praised the use of technology and media to tell the stories, especially the “This Little Light of Mine” light sculpture that features pictures of those involvement in the movement as well as the names of those who became martyrs.
“Anyone who truly wants to learn about the civil rights movement, this museum has to be at the top of their list,” he said.
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