Mississippi was at the heart of the civil rights movement, and now the state is building two museums to highlight its role in one of the country's most turbulent periods. The Civil Rights Museum will be housed inside the Museum of Mississippi History, and both are scheduled to open in 2017. The groundbreaking ceremony for the museums took place Thursday, Oct. 24.
Cindy Gardner, director of collections for the Museum of Mississippi History, and her team have culled together artifacts — like the gun used to kill activist Medgar Evers in 1963 — that will remind visitors exactly what it took to desegregate the South and win civil rights for African Americans. "Our main exhibit is called 'This Little Light of Mine' because we want people to know that the more people work together, the louder their voices and the more their light can make a difference in their communities," Gardner told The Root. She gave The Root a sneak peek at some of the artifacts as well as some background history.
Flag From the First Black Masonic Lodge
Gardner: "This was from the first black Masonic lodge in Mississippi. In part of the Civil Rights Museum, we'll be sharing a narrative from slavery up to the modern day but with a small emphasis specifically on slavery to 1945. The museum will show slave shackles and other items. This … flag represents a lodge that was the first opened during Reconstruction."
Freedom-Bus Ticket With a Backstory
"This is a bus ticket that Rick Sheviakov, then a white student from California who became a Freedom Rider, gave us. There's an interesting thing about this ticket. When the Freedom Riders had their anniversary in 2011, the Mississippi museum had a big celebration here in Jackson. Our archives-and-history staff was there talking to people, and Rick pulled this ticket out of his wallet — he'd kept it there since the 1960s — and said, 'Would you be interested in something like this?' He also kept the receipt from his bail following his arrest for participating in the Freedom Rides."
From Freedom Ride to Prison Flip-Flops
"These thongs belonged to Joan Trumpauer; she was a Freedom Rider. When their bus came into Jackson, they were immediately arrested and taken to the Hinds County jail, and then on to Parchman State Penitentiary. The time each person stayed varied."
Activist's Coffeepot That May Have Served MLK
"This pot looks boring, but Ms. A.M.E. Logan housed and fed a lot of civil rights workers and Freedom Riders. She was a founder of Womanpower Unlimited and was the official hospitality person for the NAACP. She would provide rides, cook meals, and her house was also used as the headquarters for different conferences by the NAACP or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also cooked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he came into Jackson, so this coffeepot could have been used by him. We also have some of her dishes that she used to serve people, but I just like the simplicity of the coffeepot. She passed away recently, and her daughter called us and said, 'I'm packing up her stuff, if y'all want to come by.' "
"Lift Every Voice" Quilt
"There are two quilts made by a Mississippi artist named Gwendolyn Magee. She created a lot of pieces around African-American history and heritage symbolism, so we purchased two of her quilts. This one is called 'Lift Every Voice' and was made in 2001. Throughout the Civil Rights Museum, we champion the theme that everybody has a voice and a light, so this piece really exemplified what we were trying to show. Magee recently passed away as well."
Always on Guard
"This piece was made in 2004 and shows a man looking out of his window with his rifle, and it's called Not Tonight. This really reminded us of Vernon Dahmer, the president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP in Hattiesburg, and an activist who was killed there when his house and store, which were right on his property, were firebombed. For those unfamiliar with Dahmer, he was active getting out the vote in his community. His family talks about how they'd take turns standing guard at night, so this is a very powerful piece."
James Meredith's Journey
"We got this [magazine] recently, and we liked it because it showed James Meredith as if he was marching to the Capitol of Mississippi. Meredith is an American civil rights movement figure who was the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi in 1962. This article [inside], written by James Meredith, tells of his 220-mile march down Mississippi's Highway 51 to [the] state Capitol in Jackson in June 1966. At the time, Meredith was enrolled at Columbia Law School. The goal of this march was to inspire African Americans to register to vote and go to the polls. On the second day of this march, Meredith was shot; however, he rejoined the march on its final day, June 26."
The Gun That Killed Medgar Evers
"This rifle was used by Byron De La Beckwith in the murder of Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963. De La Beckwith was convicted and sentenced on Feb. 5, 1994. We have an exhibit up about Evers in our winter archives, and that's also where our archives division of the reference library is. As part of the exhibit, this rifle is out for the first time. We've had it since 1999 but never put it out on exhibit. Ironically, De La Beckwith's son came into the archives recently to research a book he's writing on his father, I believe. I wonder if he looked at the exhibit … it was the first time he'd been in the archives. It was bizarre."
Coffin Used to Intimidate
"The Ku Klux Klan used coffins like this to intimidate people before they used crosses. They'd put these little coffins on people's doorsteps as intimidation. This was given to us by the New Hampshire Historical Society. This is included in our 'Objects in Reconstruction' exhibit, and it was procured from Mississippi by the U.S. Senate investigating committee in 1875. The KKK will definitely be talked about throughout the exhibits, [which will include] their perspective as well as that of the whites who were trying to do good and disagreed with segregation and the fear tactics."
Access to the Democratic National Convention
"This belonged to Ed King, a professor at the local [Tougaloo College]. He was a white man who was very involved in the movement and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. This ticket was used by King at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. During the convention, the MFDP claimed the seats of Mississippi, since the official delegates had been elected through a discriminatory process that excluded the black population. Through a controversial deal, the Democratic Party agreed to give two at-large seats to the MFDP — one to Aaron Henry and one to Ed King."
Citizens' Council of Jackson
"This was used by the Citizens' Council of Jackson, circa the 1960s. The White Citizens' Council itself donated this to us in 1983. I don't think they're still up and running. There were different White Citizens' Councils in different communities. So up in the Delta, a little town might have their own, or another one might be in Jackson. They were spread throughout the state."
"Here's a cross. These were burned by the KKK for intimidation purposes. Ed King, the Tougaloo professor, found this in a ditch in Jackson during the 1970s. It was wrapped in burlap and soaked in gas by the KKK. We still have some of the burlap that was left over and is still attached to the cross here."