New museums highlight history

By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – On a recent sweltering August morning, Bishop Joseph Kopacz looked out over the construction site of the burgeoning Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum project in downtown Jackson. The two museum project has been in the works for years and now will come to fruition in time for the Magnolia State’s bicentennial in 2017.
The Museum of Mississippi History will explore the sweep of the state’s history from earliest times to the present. The adjacent Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the nation’s first state-operated civil rights museum, will examine the struggle for civil rights and equality that changed the course of the state and the nation.
Bishop Kopacz was visiting the site as part of a presentation on the project by Katie Blount, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), and Trey Porter, director of community relations at MDAH. Because of it’s long history of involvement in these turbulent times and its commitment to justice and reconciliation, the Diocese of Jackson is sponsoring one of the permanent exhibits in the Civil Rights Museum. During the visit, Bishop Kopacz received an in depth look at the overall project as it has progressed.
Part of the diocese’s plan of support for the project will come in the sharing of artifacts held in the diocesan archives. In terms of the Civil Rights Movement, the diocesan archives holds artifacts and correspondence ranging from documentation of Bishop R. O. Gerow’s integration of Catholic schools to his statement on the assassination of Medgar Evers to his trip to the White House in 1963 at the request of President John Kennedy. These papers reflect the church’s prominent role in seeking justice for all of Mississippi’s people. Therefore Bishop Kopacz wanted the diocese to support the museum project in order to continue that legacy.
The archives also contains papers on the development of Mississippi’s journey to statehood from the earliest times through the eyes of the Catholic faithful and ultimately their bishops. Bishop Gerow indexed and catalogued all the previous six diocesan bishops’ papers he inherited when he became bishop in 1924.
The diocesan archives gives a unique accounting of history through the growth and spread of the Catholic faith within the boundaries of the 20th state of the union. Papers and records in the archives date back to Spanish Colonial times in 1796 Natchez and travel forward through the establishment of the diocese in 1837, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, world wars, great floods, economic depression, the Civil Rights Movement, up to the present day. Items from these archives, gathered and maintained by Bishop Gerow and now continually updated by the diocesan chancellor’s office, will be scanned and offered to MDAH for its collections and the two museums project.
Constructed side-by-side on North Street in downtown Jackson, the two museums will share space including a lobby, auditorium, store, and classrooms. The complex is being designed by ECD — an architectural consortium composed of Eley Guild Hardy; Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons, Ltd.; and Dale Partners — in consultation with the Freelon Group.
Since construction began in December 2013, all interior floors have been completed. Work on the roof, limestone façade, and public parking garage will be completed in 2015. Phase two, interior construction, will last sixteen months. The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are scheduled to open in 2017 as the centerpiece of the state’s bicentennial celebration.
The Mississippi Legislature has committed $74 million in bond funds for construction and exhibits for the “2 Mississippi Museums.” The Legislature required a dollar-for-dollar match for the exhibits. The Foundation for Mississippi History and the Foundation for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum committed to raising $16 million — $12 million for exhibits and $4 million for endowments for the museums. The Foundations are on track to meet that goal. MDAH will seek additional public funds in 2016 to complete the exhibits and furnish the building.
The Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division estimates the two new museums will welcome approximately 180,000 visitors each year. These visitors will create a projected annual tourism impact of $17.1 million in tourism expenditures, 231 direct tourism jobs in the three-county region with an estimated $6.3 million payroll, and 92 indirect jobs with a $3.3 million payroll, contributing $1.2 million to the State General Fund. Even before the museums open, the Mississippi Development Authority estimates the employment and economic impact of construction to be approximately $50 million in total brick and mortar with 500 direct and 275 indirect jobs.
For more information on the project visit the MDAH website at