FROM MDAH RELEASES — The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has received commitments for $2.5 million in gifts from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and philanthropist Ray Neilsen. The funds, given to the Foundation for Mississippi History, will be used for exhibits in the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum now under construction in downtown Jackson. These gifts are the largest received to date.
The foundation was established in 2002 by Craig H. Neilsen, who was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1985. The organization is known for its support of research and programs to improve the quality of life of people with spinal cord injuries. A portion of its annual giving is allocated to other areas that were important to Mr. Neilsen, the founder of Ameristar Casinos who died in 2006.
A Mississippi resident, Ray Neilsen is president of the real estate development firm Neilsen & Company and co-trustee and chairman of the board of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. Ray Neilsen’s support of statewide educational and historical efforts has resulted in the creation of the program “Education Pays, which encourages adult students to earn their GED, and the restoration of the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center, which will preserve the historic former African American church building in Oxford.
“I share my late father’s commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion, and I am honored to support the history—and the future—of our state in this way,” said Ray Neilsen.
In commemoration of the $2.5 million gift, the 2 Mississippi Museums will feature the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium and the Ray Neilsen Hall of History.
“These two amazing gifts will help create institutions that share our past and tell the story of our future,” said Myrlie Evers, chair of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute. “By understanding what others did, future generations will be inspired to continue the hard work for equality and justice.”
“These museums will be catalysts for conversation, education, and a greater understanding of our history,” said William Winter, governor of Mississippi 1980-84 and member of the board of directors of the Foundation for Mississippi History.
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.
Since construction began in December 2013, all interior floors have been completed and work on the roof and limestone façade has begun. Phase one of the project also includes the construction of a public parking garage and is expected to be completed in summer 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 2011 legislation authorizing construction of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum required MDAH match the public money with private dollars for exhibits. The Foundation for Mississippi History and Foundation for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are on target to meet the goal of $16 million—$12 million for the exhibits plus a $2 million endowment for each museum.