Wednesday, February 27, 2008
A group of about 100 gathered at the Smith Robertson Museum on Feb. 25 to advocate locating the proposed Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson.
"It is inconceivable to me for the museum to be anywhere other than Jackson," said City Council President and Jackson State University professor Leslie McLemore.
Portions of an unfinished report from out-of-state consulting firm, LaPaglia & Associates—leaked to the press, according to LaPaglia representatives—recommends the museum be on land leased from Tougaloo College near I-55 and I-220. A commission, impaneled by Gov. Haley Barbour, will vote on the location next month.
McLemore was quick to point out that he had no enmity with the college.
"This is not anti-Tougaloo. … We're making the case for locating the museum in downtown Jackson because we want what's best for the museum and what is best for the nation," McLemore said.
Tougaloo jumped from No. 10 on a November 2007 list of site ratings to No. 1 this month. Downtown locations, including sites on Mill and Amite Streets, dominated the older list with six locations, but still fell below the Tougaloo location in the final assessment.
McLemore wrote in a guest column for The Clarion-Ledger Sunday that the process for selecting the site was flawed—but that section was edited out of the piece that appeared. It would have read:
"In a report to the Museum Commission … the consultants stated that one of the reasons they chose Tougaloo was (because) of the 'testimony from numerous prominent and ordinary individuals who played key roles in the Civil Rights Movement.' … I'm sure that was true," McLemore wrote. "… However, when the consultants were going to visit the downtown site, we were instructed not to bring a group of proponents to the presentation. We could easily have produced a chorus of advocates for downtown if allowed to do so."
Local hip-hop artist and activist Kamikaze alleged that several board members who sit on the commission might have influenced the recommendation. Tougaloo Board member Reuben Anderson co-chairs the Civil Rights Commission, and Tougaloo President Beverly Wade Hogan sits on the commission's location committee, for example. "We have to learn, in this day and age, that we have to make decisions not based on … personal loyalty, but based on good business sense and on using our heads," Kamikaze said Monday.
Anderson, a former State Supreme Court justice, said there was communication between commission members and the consulting firm. "They talked to commission members. There was no prohibition (to communication)," Anderson told the Jackson Free Press. He denied a conflict of interest.
Hogan could not be reached.
LaPaglia & Associates President Pete LaPaglia, however, said his company had no communication with committee or commission members. "The five final locations that we were given to look at by the commission were done in an independent, unbiased and balanced approach," LaPaglia said. "We were looking for the best places to locate a national institution that would succeed."
Kamikaze faulted the commission for containing no members under the age of 40.
"[T]he next generation of leaders that we have in this town, are sick and tired of sitting back and watching people make decisions for us that are going to affect our futures, which we will have to deal with after they are long gone," Kamikaze said.
Several local officials spoke in favor of a downtown site, including Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, and Hinds County Supervisors President Peggy Calhoun. Supervisors Robert Graham and George Smith were also present, as well as Councilmembers Margaret Barrett-Simon and Charles Tillman. Rep. Alyce Clark, D-Jackson spoke for downtown as well.
Carlton Brown, CEO and co-founder of New York-based urban-development company Full Spectrum, said the museum was more about improving the state than a bidding war between Tougaloo and Jackson: "We've invested a large amount of capital into downtown. We're creating a new convention center, we're creating three new hotels, we're creating over 5,000 new residences here. It will soon be a capital city that can compete with any capital city in this part of the country."
Brown said the economic potential of the city offered the chance for economic inclusion for minorities. "Jackson, the capitol city, represents the state's greatest opportunity for inclusion in ways that make the 21st century deliver promises we sought in the mid-part of the 20th century," he said.