For more than 60 years,
a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is December 11, 2017

Y’all need to see this!

After four years of construction in downtown Jackson, two major museums focused on Mississippi history will host a grand opening celebration Dec. 9, marking Mississippi’s 200th year of statehood. Our two-part story begins with a look at the Museum of Mississippi History. In the January issue, we will explore the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

By Debbie Stringer

Y’all need to see this!

The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, in downtown Jackson.

What defines Mississippi? What made us who we are today? At the Museum of Mississippi History, answers can be found in a rich variety of stories conveyed through personal narratives, artifacts, state-of-the-art interactive exhibits, audiovisuals, images and even visitors’ own recorded comments.

Taken together, they live up to the museum’s theme of “One Mississippi, Many Stories.” The goal was to present “an honest and truthful representation” of Mississippi history throughout the state, said Rachel Myers, museum director.

“Part of my mission here is for people to confront, embrace and feel pride in Mississippi,” Myers said.

Elaborate constructions, sound effects, lighting and natural materials combine to heighten the realism of world-class exhibits filling the museum’s 11 themed galleries.

Mississippi legislators provided $90 million for construction of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. Private donations added $18 million for exhibits and endowments.

Some 1,800 artifacts and photos in the museums’ permanent exhibits came from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), which has been collecting pieces of Mississippi history since 1902.

The two museums, totaling 200,000 square feet, are connected by one lobby overlooking a large plaza. Visitors can purchase a ticket to one or both museums, and annual memberships are available.

An 8,000-square-foot exhibit space shared by both museums will host temporary exhibits. The first is “Stories Unfolded,” featuring 40 Mississippi-made quilts from territorial times to present day, selected from the MDAH collection. The show opens Dec. 9 and hangs through September 2018.

A tour of the Museum of Mississippi History begins in the orientation theater, where they watch a nine-minute overview of 15,000 years of Mississippi history. The theater was designed to give the effect of sitting around a campfire—a time-honored setting for storytelling.

The Museum of Mississippi History’s 20,000-square-foot exhibit area presents stories and artifacts from 13,000 BC through 2016. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a 500-year-old Native American canoe. Found in 1989 buried in a muddy bank of Swan Lake, in Washington County, the 25-foot dugout was made by chipping, scraping and burning a bald cypress log.

The Natchez Trace/Mt. Locust Inn exhibit comes to life with a leafy canopy overhead, deep shadows and the sound of footsteps treading the worn path. “We have full immersive experiences in here, so you will feel like you’re walking through the woods,” Myers said.

A recreation of a cotton barge, lighted by lanterns, provides a place to view films featuring Mississippians and scholars reflecting on the history being interpreted in the museum.

The design of another theater reflects the sanctuary of Mount Helm Baptist Church, founded in 1835 and the first historically black church in Jackson. Visitors sit in wooden pews to watch, by flickering (electric) candlelight, a film about the period from Reconstruction through the 1927 Mississippi River flood.

“How We Live” exhibits take visitors inside homes typical of the period represented in each gallery. One compares a room and furnishings of an 1833 Natchez planter’s mansion, a poor white yeoman farmer’s cabin and an enslaved family’s cabin. Another recreates a 1980s living room with a cabinet TV, video games and plush carpet.

Other exhibits center on transportation, the logging industry, military conflicts (through Operation Iraqi Freedom), New Deal projects in the state, public health contributions, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi artists and authors, politicians, science and more.

Before leaving the exhibits area, visitors can stop at a video booth to record their own stories relating to their museum experience. These one-minute segments will be played in the Reflections touchscreen exhibits in four galleries in the museum. Visitors can stop for lunch in the cafe and shop the museum store for Mississippi-made crafts and books, including “Telling Our Stories,” a companion book to the two museums.

Myers hopes people leave the museum with a better understanding of Mississippi, having seen the state from perspectives other than their own.

Annual visitation is estimated to reach 180,000, including school field trips.

“Our goal is to have every student in Mississippi come here,” said Michael Morris, of MDAH. Students will be able to see actual artifacts from the time periods they are studying.

“Students will grow up knowing Mississippi in a way that their parents and grandparents did not,” Myers said. “To be able to have [access to] this type of facility is such an opportunity for them.”

The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, located at 222 North St. in downtown Jackson, will be open Tuesday through Sunday beginning Dec. 9. Find admission prices and other details at museumofmshistory.com. Information on opening day activities is available at twomuseumsopening.com.

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