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Now 5-Years-Old, the Two Mississippi Museums are Making this State a Better Place

Mac Gordon

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Mississippi’s 216th anniversary as a state arrives in December. Its Two Mississippi Museums have just turned 5-years-old.

You’d think packing more than two centuries of life into just two historical halls of that young age would be impossible. However, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has met the challenge.

There’s a lot of history squeezed into those buildings on North Street, near the Old Capitol.

Some of it is drop-dead stunning in its beauty.

Some of it is ugly as hell.

Go and see what your money bought — and what the kaleidoscope of people who have called this place home since Dec. 10, 1817 have wrought.

Some of it sparkles with majesty and glory. Those sections will make you proud to be a Mississippian.

Some of it is so despicable you’ll want to run and hide, but you can’t. Mississippi is always under the eye of somebody’s microscope. There’s no escaping the pain.

That’s the way history is, isn’t it? It can be as pristine as a lush pasture in Amite County in June, or as dismal as a tornado-ravaged clump of woods in Jones County in February.

Sometimes we wonder if our people appreciate the natural beauty of Mississippi, considering the litter problem on display in all 82 counties. Come on, Mississippi, pick it up.

Weather-related disasters and racism have historically been our nemeses.

As for the former, Mississippi has fought back despite how costly in lives and property damage those dark storms have been.

Concerning the latter, a large percentage of the world’s people probably think all white Mississippians are racists.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, although, for sure, many whites have caused Black people much consternation and denied them basic rights from before statehood until now.

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum doesn’t flinch in showing the state’s protuberance on matters of race. My hometown of McComb comes in for special attention. The place earned it with what amounted to another Civil War from 1961-1965 when the Ku Klux Klan fire-bombed more than a dozen Black-owned houses and churches in the city and Pike County. The scars will never disappear, but amends are made daily to right the many wrongs.

On display is a list of more than 650 heroic citizens who stood up in late 1964 and demanded an end to the aforementioned violence and arrest of those responsible for it. You can read their names in the Civil Rights Museum, in McCombite Hilda Casin’s brilliant Black History Gallery or in (a shameless promotion) the book I wrote about McComb’s troubled days, “Hometown.”

The Museum of Mississippi History operates on a slogan of “One Mississippi, Many Stories” and encapsulates our entire “15,000 years of state history” through exhibits of artifacts and educational programs.

Your tax dollars paid for these state-run warehouses of history, which have received more than half a million visitors since opening in December 2017. Some 115,000 students, who will chart Mississippi’s future, have visited the historical havens.

In a comment on Mississippi’s premier textbook for teaching the state’s history, “Mississippi: Conflict and Change,” (Charles Sallis and James Loewen, Pantheon, 1974) the late Alvin Toffler, a writer and futurist, said of students’ need to understand the past:

“For young people to grow into competent citizens … education must connect their roots in the past with images of desirable futures. This history of Mississippi makes the connection between the living past and a livable tomorrow …”

These Two Mississippi Museums are part of the educational process aimed at making this state a better place for all of its 2.9 million people.

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