Before the Freedom Riders came to Jackson, nine Black students from Tougaloo College entered the city’s segregated main library branch and began reading.
After refusing orders by the chief of police to leave, the so-called Tougaloo Nine were arrested, charged and convicted of breaching the peace.
Their actions in March 1961 were among the first high-profile efforts to break down a stubborn, long-standing system of segregation in Mississippi.
After that, the movement for racial equality gained momentum in other Mississippi communities, and the Freedom Riders’ arrival in Jackson put the nation’s spotlight on the city.
Because of Jackson’s prominence, several leading officials here think it’s appropriate that a Mississippi civil rights museum be built in the capital city.
A legislative study group on Tuesday released a list of recommendations, saying the museum should be built somewhere in Jackson and should be part of a “trail” to highlight historically significant civil rights sites around the state.
The group said the museum should be national in scope and focus on how the Mississippi movement helped influence the civil rights struggle in other states.
The proposed facility would add to the list of civil rights museum and memorials across the country, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum in Georgia and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.
The study group in Mississippi consisted of both Black and White lawmakers and the executive director of the state Department of Archives and History. A biracial group of historians and others served as advisers.
The proposed museum is among the topics expected to be discussed during the 2007 legislative session, which begins Jan. 2.
The legislative study group recommended the state issue $50 million in bonds to build and equip the museum and to acquire artifacts for it. The group also said private money should be sought.
Gov. Haley Barbour appointed his own group earlier this year to look at the feasibility of a civil rights museum. His budget proposal includes $500,000 for planning.
Jackson State University political science professor Dr. Leslie B. McLemore, who serves on the Jackson City Council, thinks its time to showcase Mississippi’s civil rights history.
“I think we have scholars in this state and scholars external to this state who have studied this history, who know this history and will share the unvarnished history in our state and with our own people,” he says.
“One of the great tragedies is that we in our state don’t know our own history,” he adds. “So the civil rights museum will help to educate all of us, especially our young people.”
— Associated Press
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