Mississippi Approves Bill for Civil Rights Museum

Building will serve as a lasting reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.

Posted: 04/05/2011 03:14 PM EDT
Haley Barbour

Mississippi lawmakers approved a bill authorizing the construction of a museum dedicated to the state’s civil rights struggle. Approved earlier in the week by the House and Senate, the bill was held for more debate by the Senate over private fund-raising. The legislation has been sent to the governor for his signature.

The bill will allocate $20 million toward the construction of the museum and require that the rest of the costs be covered by private donations. The bill also approved the construction of another museum dedicated to the state’s overall history. The museums are to be built in downtown Jackson and expected to open in 2017, in time for the state’s bicentennial.

The bill's biggest supporter came from an unlikely source—presidential hopeful Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour, who has recently been accused of being racially insensitive, stemming from his recent refusal to grant a full pardon to the Scott sisters—who were recently paroled after serving more than 15 years for stealing $11— as well as a statement in January where he didn’t recall the civil rights struggle in his town as “being that bad.”

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson feels Barbour’s support of the museum is merely a ploy. "This is just an attention-grabber to launch his presidential race," Johnson said in an interview with Reuters. "It was not a priority for the administration before the series of race-related controversies."

Pandering tactic or not, the fact remains that Mississippi was one of the seminal birthplaces of the Civil Rights Movement that is steeped in violence. The gruesome murder of Emmett Till in 1955 is said to have sparked the early beginnings of the movement. The slaying of Civil Right activist Medgar Evers in 1963 and the disappearance and subsequent killing of three activists participating in the 1964 Freedom Rides are pieces of an important and complicated history that should not be ignored or forgotten. A museum will serve as a lasting reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.


(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)