Former Gov. William Winter speaks during the opening of the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the adjacent Museum of Mississippi History. He called the opening a glorious and momentous occasion. At left is Myrlie Evers-Williams.
Former Gov. William Winter speaks during the opening of the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the adjacent Museum of Mississippi History. He called the opening a glorious and momentous occasion. At left is Myrlie Evers-Williams.
“A glorious and momentous occasion,” is how former Gov. William F. Winter described Saturday’s opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the adjacent Museum of Mississippi History in downtown Jackson.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, whose husband Medgar was assassinated in the driveway of their Jackson home in 1963, received a standing ovation when President Trump recognized their heroism. Medgar Evers was state field secretary of the NAACP.

At the podium on Saturday, she reminisced about her first impression of the two museums, which she described as “separate but equal.”

But her attitude has changed since she toured the museums, she said.

“I understand now … one is not complete without the other,” she said.

“I wept, because I felt the blows. I felt the bullets. I felt the tears. I felt the cries, but I also sensed the hope that dwelled in the hearts of all those people and children and it transferred into hope and love we find in the other building. Where does ‘separate’ come from? A word. Both buildings share the same heart, share the same beat.”

Winter said he had looked forward to the day for a very long time and was so happy to be there.

“I am especially happy to see all the school children here,” Winter said. “You may not know this but supporting the education of Mississippi children has been the work of my lifetime. You are the future of our state and if we send you out into this world without a strong understanding of where you have come from, then we have let you down. These two museums were built for all of us, but most especially, they were built for you, our children and our grandchildren and future generations.”

Winter said the two museums, built side-by-side with a common area on State Street in downtown Jackson near the Old Capitol, will allow visitors to follow the state’s journey.

“It is not one narrative, but all our stories woven together,” he said. “Fascinating and complex, tragic and inspiring – all are captured here in these museums.”

Winter said he would celebrate his 95th birthday in a couple months and noted that he has “seen a lot” over the years.

“We have gone through some very dark times, but today, I have never been prouder to be a Mississippian,” he said.

The two museums will challenge “all of us to have a better understanding of where we have come from and then inspire us to work harder to find our common ideals and goals,” Winter said

“We will find that we have much more in common than what might appear to divide us. There is a generosity of the human spirit which exists in all of us.”

Winter urged those in attendance to pledge “right here on historic LeFleur’s Bluff, where our state began so many years ago, that although we may have taken different paths here today, we must celebrate our differences. We must to be kind to one another and we must embrace our common humanity, which binds us all together.”

Elsie Kirksey of Philadelphia, a member of the Philadelphia Coalition, whose call for justice in 2004 led to the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for his role in the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, was not able to attend Saturday’s opening of the museums but plans to visit in the near future.

Kirksey said visitors to the Civil Rights Museum may be enticed to come to Neshoba County. There is an exhibit in the museum about the Neshoba County murders.

“Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t know our history,” Kirksey said. “They go there and see our history and may be encouraged to go a little further and come here for our civil rights tour which includes the site where the three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

“I certainly am going to go to the museums even if I have to go by myself, which would allow me more time to take it all in. I want to see what black people went through to get to where we are now.”

President Donald Trump toured both museums on Saturday and spoke to guests inside. Protesters lined the streets and some civil rights icons like Rep. John Lewis who had been scheduled to speak boycotted the event.

In his remarks, Trump drew on the achievements of civil rights veterans.

“Today we strive to be worthy of their sacrifice,” he said. “We pray for inspiration from their example. We want our country to be a place where every child from every background can grow up free from fear, innocent of hatred and surrounded by love, opportunity and hope. Today we pay solemn tribute to our heroes of the past and dedicate ourselves to building a future of freedom, equality, justice and peace.’”

He called the museums “labors of love – love for Mississippi, love for your nation, love for God-given dignity written into every human soul.”

Trump singled out Medgar Evers. His widow, Myrlie, was in the audience for Trump's speech and drew a standing ovation when he acknowledged her.

Trump said Medgar Evers “knew it was long past time for his nation to fulfill its founding promise to treat every citizen as an equal child of God.’” Evers, Trump said, now rests in Arlington National Cemetery “beside men and women of all races, backgrounds and walks of life who've served and sacrificed for our country. Their headstones do not mark the color of their skin but immortalize the courage of their deeds.” – See complete remarks page 8A

The three civil rights workers, James Chaney, 21, Andrew Goodman, 20, and Michael Schwerner, 24, were ambushed and murdered in Neshoba County on June 21, 1964, by the Ku Klux Klan after investigating the burning of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in the Longdale off Mississippi 16 east nearly a week earlier on June 16, 1964.

They were ambushed and later shot by the Ku Klux Klan on Father’s Day, June 21, 1964. They were in Neshoba County investigating the burning of Mt. Zion five days earlier.

The Klan believed the church was playing a central role in the black voter registration effort.

Several members were beaten, some severely, as they left the church the night of the fire.

In 1967, seven men were convicted of conspiring to violate the civil rights of the three murder victims.

In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen, a part-time Baptist preacher and sawmill owner, was convicted on three counts of manslaughter for his role in orchestrating the murders.

Killen received three 20-year consecutive sentences and remains in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

For more information, visit the museum’s website at mcrm.mdah.ms.gov.



– The Associated Press contributed to this story