Media tour the “This Little Light of Mine” exhibit in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum honoring Freedom Summer. The Civil Rights and Mississippi History Museums broke ground four years ago and are set to open for the first time to the public on Saturday,  Dec. 9.
Media tour the “This Little Light of Mine” exhibit in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum honoring Freedom Summer. The Civil Rights and Mississippi History Museums broke ground four years ago and are set to open for the first time to the public on Saturday, Dec. 9.
Members of the media were given an early peak inside the ongoing progress of the future Mississippi Civil Rights Museum set to open in Jackson in December.

Maybe one fourth of the exhibits were open for display, though half finished exhibits could be seen behind barriers, including a large display dedicated to Emmett Till, where work crews kept busy.

“We will present the history of our state as never before with eye popping artifacts, photographs, videos and interactive exhibits,” The Two Mississippi Museums website says.

Various staff were on hand to answer questions and guide tours. Media members where allowed to take pictures, conduct interviews and take in the displays at their leisure.

The first few exhibits that were available covered topics leading up to abolition including slavery and the Civil War, the aftermath with Reconstruction and continuing on into the 20th century with early civil rights figures and events.

John Spann, a historic resources specialist with the Department of Archives and History and a guide that was on hand for the tour, said that the displays are designed to go in detail about events in the history of civil rights in the state but are supplemented by notes that put those events into regional, national and sometimes international context form the first slaves arriving at Jamestown to the 1791 slave uprising in Haiti that represented the largest slave uprising singe Spartacus’ famous unsuccessful revolt against the Romans, to Rosa Parks' famous 1955 stand on a Montgomery, Ala., bus.

“Obviously our goal is to document and present what happened in Mississippi, but we also wanted to make sure there is historical context for what was happening nationally and beyond,” Spann said.

The museum celebrates the achievements of the movement but does not shy away from some of the uglier details. One display of note included a full Ku Klux Klan robe, hood and regalia.

Pillars in the middle feature the names, dates and places of every documented lynching that took place in the state.

This first hall leads into a large round room that will display a large sculpture made of pieces of intertwined metal that will house lights. The lights will grow in intensity as the room fills with visitors and a recording of “This Little Light of Mine” swells from a whisper to proud chorus.

Another guide on hand mentioned that the lights will be visible form the interstate at night through windows facing east at the top of the room.

On the walls are sketches made during the Freedom Summer by a sketch artist that followed Fanny Lou Hamer.

This sculpture is expected to be a central display that connects the first section into a more free form format where visitors can explore topics such as what was happening during World War II, the lynching of Emmet Till and the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County. Spann said that, though the exhibits covering Neshoba County civil rights murders were not ready to be shown to the press, it is one of about three exhibits that would feature an in-depth presentation given at intervals throughout the day.

To date, the state has committed $90 million for the 200,000 square foot center that will house over 22,000 artifacts and stated goals to benefit hundreds of thousands of people a year through museum visits, public programs and educational outreach.

Artifacts and resources come from the collection and capabilities of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Other funding includes $17 million and counting in private funds raised by the Foundation for Mississippi History. The museums also have donation and membership forms on their website. Individual memberships start at $45 and options as high as $1,100 are called benefactors.

The project involves two new museums, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

The museums broke ground four years ago and are set to open for the first time to the public on Dec. 9, a Saturday. Events for the day include food trucks and a celebration of the state's Bicentennial on the plaza in front of the museum building at 11 a.m. Visitors will be able to listen to Civil Rights veterans and “special guests” tell their stories and memories of the movement. The family friendly event will also include music, food trucks and a ribbon cutting.

As of Oct. 20, tickets for all time slots for the Dec. 9 and 10 free tours are filled. Those without tickets will not be able to tour the museum but are encouraged to enjoy the music, food trucks and speakers present for the celebration on the museum plaza. Regular hours will begin that Tuesday, Dec. 12.

“We want every museum visitor to be able to have the time and space to interact with the exhibits, and that is how we determined our capacity. You can become a member online today, or make plans to visit during regular hours, which begin Tuesday, Dec. 12,” a statement on the event Facebook page reads.