December 7, 2017 10:33:52 AM
On Dec. 10, 1817, Mississippi became the 20th state in the union. The year-long observance of the state's bi-centennial will culminate Saturday with the opening of not one, but two museums dedicated to the state's long, often troubled, history.
The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, located next to each other on North Street in downtown Jackson, features more than 200,000 square feet of space with 22,000 artifacts.
Both museums tell the story of Mississippi, and in the case of the Museum of Mississippi History, the story reaches back as far as 15,000 years.
By contrast, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum tells the story of the Civil Rights era of the state from 1945-1976.
While both museums will greatly advance patrons' understanding of our state and its past, it is the Civil Rights Museum that is drawing particular interest.
At the invitation of Gov. Phil Bryant, President Donald Trump, will attend at the ceremony, an invitation that has drawn sharp criticism from civil rights groups and others who believe Trump's views and actions on race diminish the ceremonies.
Ricky Cole, the former Mississippi Democratic Party chairman, expressed his objection to Trump's participation in Saturday's event on a social media post: "Bringing (Trump) to the Civil Rights Museum is like bringing Jane Fonda to the (American) Legion Hut."
Several groups are organizing protests of the president's appearance, as museum officials urge visitors to keep those protests away from the museum grounds out of respect for what the museum represents.
No matter how Saturday's event plays out, both museums will endure as lasting legacies of our state's history and stand as invaluable educational tools for generations of Mississippians to come.
For many Americans, the story of the Civil Rights movement was something they read about in newspapers or watched on television. But for Mississippians of the era, the struggle played out right outside their doors.
Many of the seminal moments of the movement -- the stories of Emmet Till, of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, of Medgar Evers, of James Meredith, of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer -- all happened on Mississippi soil.
The enduring images of those moments are seared into our collective conscience, but for younger generations of Mississippians, the stories may recede into the shadows. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum keeps those stories alive and relevant.
That is important.
Just as our individual personal histories shape our perceptions, our state history -- be it good or bad -- inform our collective views as Mississippians. A better understanding of our history makes us a better people.
Saturday's opening of these two museums dedicated to that single purpose is a fitting tribute to our state's 200th birthday.
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