February is Black History Month, celebrating the overflowing culture and accomplishments of African Americans. Mississippi itself has had many people contribute to this celebration, whether it be B.B King, the “King of the Blues,” Oprah Winfrey, the legendary television icon, or Jerry Rice, one of the greatest NFL wide receivers of all time. However, February is also the time where we recognize the overwhelming adversity the African American people have had to overcome to gain freedom and equality. Sadly, Mississippi is widely recognized for cruel, racist, and evil treatment of black people throughout its history, especially during the Civil Rights Era. I wanted to recognize these obstacles the African American people overcame for my article this month, so I decided to visit the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
To say the very least, my visit to the museum was heartbreaking. It consisted of countless exhibits of atrocities committed onto the African American community by white supremacy groups, congressmen, and other Mississippi leaders. The first thing that caught my eye was one of the “black boxes” used in elections during the Civil Rights era, and one of the most unreasonable and difficult literacy tests used to prevent black people from voting. It disappointed me to see this, along with all the other preventative measures used to keep African Americans from voting. In addition, I learned about the numerous horrific bombings and shootings experienced by the black community for protesting these obvious violations of their rights. I also saw pamphlets and fundraising requests from the KKK and another supremacy group called the “Citizen’s Council.” These pamphlets asserted that African American people were “less than.” I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be an African American during that period—to read something so demeaning, belittling, and untrue. The fact that leaders of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi withstood this treatment, along with the constant threat of death, is incredibly inspiring. Not only that, but it also made me proud to be from the same state as these brave Mississippians.
There were other very disturbing exhibits in this museum that affirmed my admiration of Civil Rights leaders. Multiple glass casings contain uniforms of Ku Klux Klan members, as well as the crosses they burned and death threats they wrote. As I stood looking in the casing, I could feel pure evil seeping through and it made me shiver.
As I walked through the museum, I found a different room dedicated to the desegregation of schools in Mississippi. This room showed the conditions these African American children had to endure, and the resistance of Mississippi to desegregate. While I had been educated about Civil Rights throughout my schooling, I still learned many new facts about the fight for equality in schools. I did not know that many of the private schools that surrounded me my entire life were specifically founded to prevent interracial schooling. This was just one of the many things I learned at the museum. I also watched a short film about the life of Medgar Evers and his fight for equality, showing me why he is one of the most famous Civil Rights Era leaders. In addition, I learned about the “Tougaloo Nine Read In,” where nine Tougaloo students refused to leave the “white-only” library and were arrested. Finally, I was fascinated and inspired by the story of the Freedom Riders, an organization that rode interstate busses throughout the south to protest segregated bus terminals. At one point there were over 400 Freedom Riders, and this bravery, comradery and determination made me very happy and humbled.
I only selected a handful of things to cover from this phenomenal museum, and there are many more interesting and thought-provoking exhibits in the Civil Rights Museum. Some of these include an educational video on Emmett Till, artifacts of voting suppression, more information about important civil rights leaders, an incredible section about influential African American culture, and many other exhibits that honor all the adversity they have overcome. While many of the exhibits appalled me and made me incredibly upset, as I continued to learn more and more, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of pride to be close friends and colleagues with many African American Mississippians. Their continued perseverance through turmoil and outrageous treatment is truly something that people across the world can be inspired by, and it is certainly evident in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.