As the state celebrated its bicentennial in December, the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and adjacent Museum of Mississippi History opened their doors in downtown Jackson.
Expected to welcome more than 200,000 annual visitors from around the country, the museums mark the culmination of years of planning, design and construction to become two of the largest museum spaces in Mississippi.
“These museums are as big if not bigger than the ones you see in Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles,” explained Matt McWilliams. “It’s wonderful that entities around the state were able to work together to complete a project like this. I think it will do a lot of good for many years.”Mississippi State University alumni Russ Blount of Jackson, left, and Matt McWilliams of Brandon, are among the Bulldogs who brought the two museums to fruition.
McWilliams served as principal for the project’s general contractor, Brandon-based Thrash Commercial Contractors Inc., overseeing the construction of the buildings. A 1991 Mississippi State graduate with a bachelor’s in civil engineering, he was one of many Bulldogs involved in turning an empty lot just west of the Jackson fairgrounds into a $90 million, 415,000-square-foot remembrance of Mississippi’s past and beacon for its future.
“As part of the state’s tourist attractions, this project has the potential to be a real economic engine,” McWilliams said.
Fellow Bulldog Russ Blount, a 1994 architecture graduate, explained the building was designed with the intention of making a permanent mark on the Jackson skyline. He is a partner with Dale Partners Architects, one of three local architecture firms involved in the museum project.
“We want this building to last a long time,” Blount said. “We’ve used materials that are intended to last 100 years. Along with limestone, the building’s exterior is terra cotta, and the interior has concrete masonry units, stone and terrazzo flooring.”
Blount said the concept for the museums was discussed in public forums, where the architects and designers invited public feedback on the project that is funded by the state, as well as donations from companies and individuals. Though the two buildings are connected by a shared, glass-fronted lobby, he said there was a desire for each museum to have its own identity. As a result, the history side has a more traditional appearance while the civil rights section is more contemporary.
Upon entering the museums’ shared lobby, patrons see the history museum on the left and the civil rights museum to the right. A wood-veneer wall across the way hides a 250-occupant multipurpose room for special events and meetings. While the Museum of Mississippi History presents the entire breadth of Magnolia State history from Native American settlements to the present day, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum focuses on the period of 1945 to 1976 when the state was ground zero for the movement.
The first and second floors of the buildings are the public spaces and house the museums’ collections, which consist of more than 22,000 pieces. There are also administrative offices, a store, classroom areas and social settings.
“This project is something everybody in the state can be proud of because it’s a great example of folks working together to make good things happen.” ~ Matt McWilliams
The structure features a “green” roof on its attached parking garage. This concept hides from view the machinery that typically clutters rooftops and instead makes it a visitor-friendly terrace suitable for gatherings or outdoor presentations. Its design also helps make the structure more energy and environmentally efficient.
McWilliams said he is proud to be among the Bulldog alumni who contributed to this ambitious, innovative project that generations of Mississippians will enjoy.
“There was a lot of communication and planning among the engineers, architects, exhibit contractors and consultants, so we were able to work together to solve problems and stay on schedule,” McWilliams said. “This project is something everybody in the state can be proud of because it’s a great example of folks working together to make good things happen.”