Civil Rights Museum Should Be Downtown

Last week, the location sub-committee of the National Civil Rights Museum Commission in Mississippi recommended Tougaloo College as the location of a proposed civil rights museum in Mississippi. While we recognize Tougaloo's extraordinary role in the fight for civil rights in Mississippi, and we proudly support efforts to immortalize the role of both the college and its students and teachers from that era, we submit that it would make more sense for the people of Mississippi that the museum be located in Downtown Jackson.

The Farish Street neighborhood, one of the most vibrant centers of African American commerce in pre-integration times, is a logical Downtown Jackson location for such a museum, where tourists would be more likely to find it, Jacksonians would be more likely to return repeatedly, and the museum installations would be more easily attended by residents and schoolchildren from all over the Jackson metro and throughout Mississippi. Seminars, lectures, classes and traveling shows would all be more easily accessible.

The proof of concept may well be the Mississippi Museum of Art, which has been an extraordinary success for having stayed in Downtown Jackson. MMA's beautiful new building has established itself as a resource center of knowledge and culture for which all Mississippians can be thankful and proud.

A civil rights museum in Downtown Jackson would be a similar—and extremely poignant and resonant—resource for locals and visitors alike. And it would benefit from the additional exposure and foot traffic that results from its proximity to other attractions such as Farish Street, the King Edward, the convention center, Thalia Mara Hall and, yes, the Mississippi Museum of Art.

The location of a new civil rights museum is also important on the national stage. Placing the museum in the heart of the capital city sends a message to the rest of the country and the world that Mississippi is "owning" its race history and, through a living, breathing museum, exploring its ramifications and future. Locating the museum on the outskirts of town and on the campus of a private HBCU does not send that same message.

Much as Birmingham and Selma have done, Jackson can make clear that its nefarious role in the struggle for civil rights is a part of our collective DNA—and that celebrating the heroes of that movement while continuing to study that living history may well offer a road map to a brighter tomorrow for the state.

While the civil rights museum may be a plus for Tougaloo and a tourist destination for many, its location there would be a lost opportunity for the city of Jackson and for Mississippi as a whole. We encourage the full National Civil Rights Museum Commission in Mississippi to vote against the recommendation and choose, instead, to place the museum in Downtown Jackson.


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