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Visitors Express Amazement, Pride in the State's Two New Museums
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Common Space Inside the Civil Rights Museum
Desare Frazier

It's the first full week of business for the 2 Mississippi Museums Project. The pair opened with a celebration and ribbon cutting to culminate the state's 200th anniversary. MPB's Desare Frazier talks to visitors to get their impressions of the state-of-the-art facilities.     

It's opening day for Mississippi's two new museums as hundreds line the walkway to go inside. The museums although distinct are under one roof.  To the right, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum chronicles the movement from 1945 to 1976, including the Jim Crow Era, the fight for voting rights and desegregation.  To the left, the Museum of Mississippi History depicts the state's earliest beginnings from 13,000 BC, the origins of Native Americans, the coming of Europeans and Africans to the present are on display. 

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"Oh it is phenomenal," said a visitor.

"This little light of mine. I'm going to let it shine..." singing

The eight galleries in the Civil Rights Museum encircle a common space where the song "This Little Light of Mine" plays. Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers, at first questioned why there are two museums. She thought this could be a possible return to the old "Separate but Equal Doctrine."  After touring both of them, Evers says together they tell Mississippi's story and hold bright promise for the future. But, the 84-year old shared with reporters the pain she felt seeing the struggle for equal rights in interactive displays, artifacts and exhibits.

"I went through that museum battling back tears, embracing memories, being angry, livid all over again, and then being prayerful that we never see the likes of what's depicted in that particular museum," said Evers.

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Pausing in front of an exhibit about Native Americans in the state history museum, Paul Toles of Clinton says often Mississippi's history isn't accurately portrayed. But he's impressed with what he's seeing. There's a 500-year old dug out canoe, Native American pottery and tools discovered by archaeologists, a canon from the Civil War, displays about cotton's impact on the state and its reliance on slave labor.  

"I've been to the Smithsonian. I've been to other museums and from what I've seen already just so far it's really good and they have really told a true story," said Toles.

It's the true stories of the Civil Rights Movement some here find compelling. The word most used - "overwhelming." Mississippi was at the epicenter of the movement. The doors from the store in Money, where Emmit Till was accused of whistling at a White woman and later brutally killed are the entrance to an exhibit about his murder. The burned-down house of activist Vernon Dahmer is pictured with his sons home from the military looking at the charred remains. Spencer Dickerson of Jackson says he knew of some of the violence that occurred during the movement, but is finding there's much more to learn here.

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"I've almost been brought to tears a few times, watching a few of the videos of disappearances and murders that have occurred through history. So, it's been an emotional roller coaster definitely," said Dickerson.

The stepdaughter of Civil Rights Veteran Owen Brooks is on that emotional roller coaster.  Millicent Harris of Jackson chokes back tears recalling a display that features the Ku Klux Klan. 

"I literally was shaking to see the robes in their original regalia and then the wooden coffins which were used as a symbol of a death threat prior to the burning of the crosses and then there was an official State of Mississippi seal," said Harris.

Charlene Boykin of Jackson says she grew up sheltered from the Jim Crow Era violence. She brought a pen and pad to take notes. Boykin was astounded by the tall columns illuminated with the names of those who were lynched. 

"Once of the curators here told me there were over 600 people listed on these billboards, but there could even be more that they don't have. It's just amazing," said Boykin.

Honest is the word Dorothy Triplett of Jackson uses to describe the state history museum as she walks slowly, lingering in front of an exhibit.

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"I'm so proud that its honest and that it's complete. It's not just one sided. It's the whole story all the way from the beginning. And it takes us to the present and points us in the right direction for the future," said Triplett.

So much to learn, so much to take in says Rebecca Wiggs of Jackson.

"It's almost overwhelming. I've said to several friends that I've seen here that we'll all have to come back because there's so much. It's too much to take in, in a single visit," said Wiggs.

Visitors have teams of scholars to thank for spending countless hours compiling the many stories and voices found within these walls. Here people see the unvarnished truth about Mississippi; both the good and the bad. Those who worked to bring the museums to fruition hope young people will take what they learn here and strive to make the Magnolia State a model of progress for the nation.