Senator: Neshoba could be site for state civil rights museum
Wednesday, July 26, 2006 10:44 AM
Neshoba County could be among sites considered for a proposed Mississippi civil rights museum once lawmakers hear a report from a committee that is studying the feasibility of such a museum.
A committee that consists of state university professors and the director of the State Department of Archives and History is charged with studying the possibility of a museum and will report back to the state legislature when it convene in January.
Sen. Gloria Williamson, D-Philadelphia, says the reason there are no members of the legislature on the committee is that they are trying to keep politics out of it as much as possible.
"The universities are doing most of the searching," Williamson said. "It will be done on the academia level and will be great when it gets all put together."
In the coming months, members of the committee will decide on a location and possible funding sources.
Williamson said the civil rights history that runs through Neshoba County, including the infamous triple murder of three civil rights workers in 1964 and the call for justice by city and county leaders that led to the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen for his role in the killings, is one of the things that galvanized support for a state civil rights museum.
"The Killen trial brought to the attention of everyone about the need to acknowledge our past rather than run from it," Williamson said.
"It made more people aware that we needed such a museum. It had a great deal to do with attention on the civil rights era and I suspect Neshoba County will be a lead character at the museum."
Former Neshoba Democrat Editor and Publisher Stanley Dearman, who covered the civil rights murders and subsequent investigation, said a museum would be very important for the state and Neshoba County.
"It's important to preserve that history and have it in one place for scholars and school groups to see," Dearman said.
He hopes Philadelphia will be considered for the museum site, noting the importance it played in the civil rights movement.
"It would be an excellent choice for it," Dearman said. "Neshoba County is on the map as far as the civil rights movement is concerned. It was put on the map by what the Klan did in 1964."
Williamson is also hopeful that the committee will consider placing the proposed museum in Neshoba County.
"We haven't decided on a location yet but there is a possibility Philadelphia could get it because of the casinos," Williamson said.
Even if Philadelphia is not chosen, Dearman believes there should be some sort of museum here to signify what happened in Neshoba County starting in 1964 and encompassing the next 41 years.
"Even if we don't get the statewide museum, there should be something here," Dearman said. "What happened here was extremely important in history and there should be something here to signify it."
Mississippi is one of only a handful of Southern states that have not established museums dedicated solely to one of the nation's darkest periods. Thousands visit similar museums in Alabama, Tennessee and Atlanta each year.
However, Williamson said she is encouraged with the progress made so far and is looking forward to hearing from the committee when the legislature returns in January.
"When it's done it is going to be very good for the state," Williamson said. "We're just in the baby phases. It's going to take a lot of research, but we're going to do it right. It will be a big draw for Mississippi."