The eight galleries at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum focus on the years 1945–1976 when Mississippi was ground zero for the national Civil Rights Movement. The galleries encircle a central space called “This Little Light of Mine.” There, a dramatic sculpture glows brighter and the music of the Movement swells as visitors gather.
ONE: MISSISSIPPI’S FREEDOM STRUGGLE
This introductory gallery defines civil and human rights, setting the context for the Civil Rights Movement. Read quotations from the men, women, and children who risked their lives in the courageous campaign to gain freedom. Images of the people affected by slavery, including well-known leaders, reflect the inhumanity of the institution and their determination to end it.
TWO: MISSISSIPPI IN BLACK AND WHITE
This gallery covers the years 1865 to 1941, from the end of the Civil War through Reconstruction and beyond. Black Mississippians emerged from slavery as free citizens and established strong communities—despite oppression by white Mississippians. Explore the essential role of church and family in this gallery, and read about the African Americans who rose as leaders. Hear the stories and inspect artifacts—such as a “colored” entrance sign and tools used by an African American blacksmith—to begin to understand the trials of this period. Five monoliths engraved with the names of known lynching victims rise over this gallery.
THREE: THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE
This central gallery is the heart of the museum, a soaring space filled with natural light from large windows. Civil rights activists are honored with words and images, and the music of the Movement emanates from a dramatic light sculpture. As more visitors gather and interact with the sculpture—adding their own “light”—it shines brighter and the music grows stronger.
FOUR: A CLOSED SOCIETY
As you explore the years 1941 to 1960 in this gallery, see how the experiences of black Mississippians who served in World War II fueled the Civil Rights Movement. Hear first-hand accounts of veterans who fought for their country and returned to Mississippi motivated to fight for equality. Step into two immersive theaters to understand how the Brown v. Board of Education decision and Emmett Till’s murder ignited the Civil Rights Movement. An early NAACP pennant, a NAACP sash given to Medgar Evers, and textbooks used in segregated schools are also exhibited.
FIVE: A TREMOR IN THE ICEBERG
The early 1960s saw a new generation of activists who brought a fresh urgency to the Civil Rights Movement. Activist Bob Moses described these times as the “tremor in the middle of the iceberg.” Engage with a touch screen interactive exhibit to read personal stories of people who participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. A re-created jail cell and a tear gas canister from the integration of the University of Mississippi give a sense of the brutal conditions and retaliation that activists faced. See powerful artifacts including jail-house flip-flops, boycott fliers, and the rifle used to assassinate Medgar Evers. An immersive theater in this gallery commemorates Evers's life and work.
SIX: I QUESTION AMERICA
Covering the years 1963 and 1964, this gallery looks at the people who gathered in churches, Masonic halls, and community centers as local movements grew into coordinated state campaigns. Youths and seniors, middle class and poor, urban and rural people alike cast their ballots in a “Freedom Vote” and went to the Democratic National Convention to demand that their voices be heard. The centerpiece of this gallery is a re-created country church where visitors can hear the compelling story of Freedom Summer. Use the interactive touch screen displays to explore Sovereignty Commission files and witness the stories of Freedom Summer volunteers. A theater documents the murders of Freedom Summer volunteers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. A COFO sign, shards of glass from a bombed church, a burned cross, and an FBI fingerprint kit are some of the many artifacts on display.
SEVEN: BLACK EMPOWERMENT
From 1965 to the mid-1970s, empowerment was taking hold in black communities, urged on by successes such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A decade that began with the Freedom Riders and sit-ins ended with black leaders running Head Start programs and serving as members of the state legislature. This gallery explores the successes that black citizens faced as well as the tragedies—such as the murder of Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. and other activists. Explore the history of the Movement by inspecting notable artifacts, including a camera used by civil rights activist Doris Derby and a button from the 1966 March Against Fear.
EIGHT: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
This museum, like the movement it is named for, is intended to be a powerful and transformative experience. In this last gallery, we encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what you have seen and heard in your time here. To inspire conversation and consideration, read the words of Mississippians from all walks of life as they discuss the progress our state has made since the Civil Rights era and the challenges that remain. In this gallery, we invite you to share your thoughts and leave comments on your visit here.