Analysis: Miss. Civil Rights Museum Hires Manager

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The newly hired project manager for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum says she wants the museum to tell stories of everyday people who helped shatter barriers of segregation.

The state Department of Archives and History has hired Jacqueline K. Dace after a nationwide search, and she begins work Dec. 1.

Dace, who lives in Chicago, tells The Associated Press that in addition to gathering artifacts and documents, she wants a strong emphasis on collecting oral histories.

"That's one of the things that I think is always great and best for getting the personal stories told," Dace said. "So many times, we hear about the heroes and people that are of prominence. Yet, you had so many other people who were the foot soldiers."

More than a generation has passed since the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and historians face the challenges of an aging population: Memories fade and people die.

"Time is short in terms of being able to tell those stories," Dace said.

Officials to hope to open the Civil Rights Museum and a more comprehensive Mississippi History Museum by 2017, the bicentennial of statehood.

Plans call for the two museums to be built next to each other on what's now an empty ridge of land in downtown Jackson, next to the state archives building. The land is a couple of blocks east of the state Capitol and just up a hill from the State Fairgrounds.

Dace has more than two decades of museum experience in Missouri and Illinois, including many years at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, where she was curator of African-American collections. For the past two years, she has been collections manager for the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Fred Banks is chairman of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Advisory Commission. In a news release from the state Department of Archives and History, Banks said he was impressed with Dace's experience and enthusiasm.

"I think that she will do an excellent job in helping to create a facility of which we all can be proud," Banks said.

Department director Hank Holmes said in the release that Dace has strong organizational and communication skills, which will help as she leads development of a museum that "tells the story of the local people who became heroes of the movement."

Dace grew up in Centreville, Ill., near St. Louis, but her parents were from Mississippi and she often visited relatives in the state. Both of her parents are now deceased. Her mother grew up in Tupelo, with family extending into Pontotoc County, in the northeastern part of the state. Her father's family is from south Mississippi, in the areas of Laurel and Pachuta. Dace still has relatives in the state.

"It's almost like a homecoming for me," she said.

Dace was born in the early 1960s and is too young to have been an active participant in the civil rights movement. However, she remembers that when her family traveled to Mississippi when she was a child, there were certain places her parents wouldn't stop because it wouldn't have been safe for black people.

"My father had a run-in with whites in Pachuta and actually had to leave Mississippi for threat of being killed," Dace said. "For me to be able to be involved in the development of the Civil Rights Museum, to tell this history, is in my way closing that circle and answering many questions he would've been wanting to ask."


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