Mississippi history museums on track for December opening

A large portrait of an African-American child greets visitors to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum during a work progress tour in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Workmen are on track to complete construction on the side-by-side museums, one dedicated to the telling of the civil rights struggle in the state and the other, the Museum of Mississippi History, which encompasses the state's history. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Construction is wrapping up and exhibits are being built in side-by-side museums set to open Dec. 9 to celebrate 200 years of Mississippi statehood.

The Museum of Mississippi History takes a broad look at the place, from prehistoric times until today. The Mississippi Civil Right Museum focuses on developments that changed the state and nation between 1945 and 1976.

The museums have been years in the making.

Civil rights advocates started pushing more than a decade ago for a place to tell the story of struggles for voting rights, integration and equal treatment under the law. In 2011, then-Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, got on board and said Mississippi should build a stand-alone museum about the civil rights movement.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the two museums was held in late 2013 and attracted more than 500 people, including Myrlie Evers-Williams. She is the widow of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in 1963.

The Legislature has approved $90 million in state funding, and private donors have given $17 million.

State Department of Archives and History officials on Tuesday led reporters and photographers on a tour of the buildings.

They showed off spaces where a wide variety of exhibits will be installed to explore Native American cultures, slavery, the growth of black political strength after the Civil War and the backlash against it during Reconstruction. The exhibitions will also look at the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1927 and at military service, religion, literature and music. The civil rights museum will have details about lynchings, Freedom Riders and home-grown activists who have worked for justice.

A large wall in the Museum of Mississippi History features a map of the state inlaid with photographs of prominent people from the state, including Pushmataha, who was chief of the Choctaw nation from 1764 to 1824; the late civil rights activist and state Rep. Aaron Henry; former Govs. Kirk Fordice and William Winter; and singers Leontyne Price and Elvis Presley.

"Our goal is that by the time people end up here, they will know all of these people," Rachel Myers, director of the Museum of Mississippi History, said as she stood near the map.