MDAH to Oversee Construction of Mississippi Museums

The Department of Archives and History will oversee construction of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History, with the goal of opening both in 2017 as centerpieces of the state’s bicentennial celebration. The 2011 Legislature and Governor Haley Barbour worked together to provide $40 million in bond funding for the projects.

The Museum of Mississippi History will tell the story of the state from prehistory through the current day. The civil rights museum will focus on the period 1945–70 and tell the story of the struggle for equal rights and fair treatment under the law. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will be the nation’s first state-sponsored civil rights museum.

In his State of the State address in January, Governor Barbour recommended joining the Museum of Mississippi History that was being planned by MDAH with the proposed civil rights museum, allowing cost savings through shared collection storage areas, artifact conservation labs, classroom and auditorium space, parking garage, store, and other features. The department was given oversight of the civil rights museum with House Bill 1463, which also provided initial funding to construct the two museums and established their location in downtown Jackson on the same block as the William F. Winter Archives and History Building. Total cost of the two museums is expected to top $70 million, with a significant amount of the funding for exhibits coming from private sources.

“Governor Barbour and the Legislature could not have provided a more appropriate project to build the state’s bicentennial celebration around,” said MDAH board of trustees president Kane Ditto. “These two museums will give Mississippians the opportunity to look honestly at our past and with hope to our future.”

Although the projects are in different stages of development, plans are moving forward to design the buildings, gather artifacts, develop exhibits, and construct the museums and museum complex.

The state history museum’s collection dates back to artifacts acquired in the early days of the 109-year-old Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Initially housed in the state capitol, the small but popular exhibits featured military artifacts, fossilized bones, and even a ceremonial Polynesian head-dress. Over the decades the collection continued to grow and focus more on materials directly related to the state’s history. MDAH now has the world’s finest collection of Mississippi artifacts, including a rare 1818 Twenty-Star U.S. flag, an original Bowie knife, slave-made quilts, and prehistoric Native American artifacts.

In 1961 the state history museum opened in the rehabilitated Old Capitol in downtown Jackson. While that site provided a grand setting, ongoing maintenance issues and limitations of a historic structure convinced the Mississippi Legislature that a new building should be constructed for the state history museum. The Old Capitol would then be fully restored and opened as a museum interpreting the history of the building, which served as the seat of Mississippi’s government from 1839 until 1903.

In 1998 the Legislature authorized the department to begin planning a new Museum of Mississippi History. ECD—a consortium composed of Eley Associates/Architects; Cooke Douglas Farr Lemons, Ltd. Architects and Engineers; and Dale and Associates Architects—was selected to design the new Museum of Mississippi History building, which would be built by statute on the north end of the block where the William F. Winter Archives and History Building had been authorized for construction.

Funding priorities changed in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina roared across the state, tearing the copper roof off the Old Capitol and driving rainwater into the historic building. The damage forced the museum’s immediate closing, and all staff and the entire collection had to be moved out of the building. The Legislature appropriated funds to restore the Old Capitol Museum, and the department completed that project in 2009. But with the state and nation experiencing severe budget problems, funding for construction of the new state history museum was not forthcoming until 2011.

The bill that funded the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History also established the twenty-five-member Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Advisory Commission. The group is chaired by former Mississippi Supreme Court justice Fred Banks and includes appointees by the governor, lieutenant governor, and Speaker of House; presidents of the state’s colleges and universities; representatives from the Mississippi Development Authority, the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute, and the William F. Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation; and MDAH director H.T. Holmes. The commission is charged with advising the Department of Archives and History on plans for the civil rights museum.

ECD will oversee the design and construction of the two museums and museum complex. At its inaugural meeting in August the Advisory Commission endorsed cost estimates and conceptual drawings for the project. Preliminary plans are for each museum to be multi-storied with more than 20,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space and 3,000 square feet of temporary exhibit space. Each museum will have its own director and staff and will share support staff.

“In addition to the architectural firms that will be responsible for designing the two buildings, each museum will have a design firm for the exhibits,” said MDAH Museum Division director Lucy Allen.

The Department of Finance and Administration will issue requests for proposals for exhibit designs for each museum.

Construction of the two museums, parking garage, and museum complex is scheduled to begin in 2013 and take three years.

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