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Our View: An unlikely site for the library of an under-appreciated president




On Thursday, Mississippi State held a grand-opening ceremony for the Grant Presidential Library, a $10-million, 21,000 square-foot addition to the university's Mitchell Memorial Library. 


That Mississippi would be home of a presidential library seems unorthodox for two reasons. First, no Mississippian has ever served as president of the United States and second, the president whose archives are now home at MSU, played a decisive role in the defeat of the Confederacy, of which Mississippi was an enthusiastic member. 


The story of this seemingly odd marriage is well known here. The connecting link that led to Thursday's celebration is MSU professor of history emeritus, Jim Marszalek, a nationally recognized expert on the Civil War.  


Marszalek succeeded John Y. Simon as director of the Grant Foundation in 2008 and was instrumental in helping MSU secure the Grant papers later that year when they were moved from Southern Illinois University.  


Thursday's event marked the end of years of work and the addition of a $10 million, 21,000 square-foot facility to the library that makes MSU one of only six universities in the nation to host a presidential library.  


The Grant Library features statues and artifacts, as well as interactive displays, to teach visitors about the life and accomplishments of the nation's 18th president.  


The Grant Presidential Collection, which is the largest single collection of Grant papers and items in the world, contains 15,000 linear feet of correspondence, research notes, artifacts, photographs, scrapbooks and memorabilia, along with 4,000 published monographs. 


The library also provides a wealth of information on one of our most overlooked and most misunderstood presidents. 


As president (1869-1877), Grant tried to foster a peaceful relations between the North and South. He supported pardons for former Confederate leaders while also attempting to protect the civil rights of freed slaves.  


In 1870, the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, was ratified. Grant signed legislation aimed at limiting the activities of white terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan that used violence to intimidate blacks and prevent them from voting.  


At various times, the president stationed federal troops throughout the South to maintain law and order. Critics charged that Grant's actions violated states' rights, while others contended that the president did not do enough to protect freedmen. 


Apart from Reconstruction, which remained the dominant topic of his era, Grant signed legislation establishing the Department of Justice, the National Weather Service and Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park. He also tried, with limited success, to improve conditions for Native Americans. 


While his tenure, especially his second term, was rocked with scandal, there was never any indication that Grant was personally involved.  


Certainly, he did not exploit the office for personal gain: His primary motivation for writing his memoir (published by Mark Twain's publishing company) was to provide for his family.  


He died from throat cancer shortly after completing the work in 1885. 


Grant's departure from the presidency proved damaging to the cause of blacks throughout the South, Reconstruction ended with Grant's second term.  


Grant served honorably as president, and that Mississippi State has the privilege of home to the Grant Presidential Library is something all Mississippi's can take pride in.



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