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Tougaloo Selected for Civil Rights Museum

Tougaloo selected for Civil Rights Museum

By Earnest McBride
Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor

March 13, 2008

Copyright 2008. Jackson Advocate, Jackson, Mississippi. Submitted by Earnest McBride and posted by permission.



Members of the governor’s commission to establish a site for the location of the National Museum of Civil Rights in Mississippi Tuesday overwhelmingly chose an area near or on the Tougaloo Campus over a possible site in downtown Jackson for the planned structure.

Committee co-chairmen, retired U. S. District Judge Charles Pickering and Reuben Anderson, a former state supreme court justice and a 1964 graduate of Tougaloo, both voiced their approval after the 39-member committee voted 22-9 to select Tougaloo for the multimillion-dollar development.

Chairing the final meeting of the committee, Anderson prematurely called the vote in favor of the Tougaloo site although there was no clear-cut vote for or against it.

"Unless you want to question the chair," Anderson said after the quick vote that ended without an official counting of hands, "I think the votes in favor have it."

Only after a media representative asked for a breakdown of the numbers did a specific count take place.

Shortly before the final before the commission met in its final session Tuesday, former Agriculture Secretary and U. S. Congressman Mike Espy, who served as vice-chairman of the location committee and a graduate of Howard University, indicated that he wanted Tougaloo to be selected for the museum.

"The history of Tougaloo and its close identify with the civil rights in Mississippi makes it the logical choice for the museum," Espy said. "I have no qualms about not having the site in the city of Jackson proper. But I prefer Tougaloo on the basis of the many ties that the school has with civil rights in Mississippi."

Addressing the meeting about a half-hour after the final vote was taken, Gov. Haley Barbour indicated that he also was pleased at the selection.

"To me this is a very, very important undertaking," Barbour said. "And it’s crucial that we do it right. Our goal is to do justice to the subject matter. Now we’re ready to go and start raising money. So before we know it we can begin to turn dirt."

A core group within the commission closely identified with the civil rights activities of 30 or 40 years ago accepted their fate after the vote went against them.

Jackson Mayor Frank Melton issued a press statement the day before the meeting urging the commission to select his city rather than Tougaloo.

"I fear," Melton said, "that locating the National Civil Rights Museum of Mississippi on the Tougaloo campus would effectively limit its accessibility to thousands of potential patrons annually, thereby squandering a vital opportunity to honor our champions, heal the scars left by our tragic losses, celebrate our progress to day, and remind our sons and daughters of the grave costs inherent in intolerance."

Medical Doctor Robert Smith has maintained an affiliation with Tougaloo for more than 50 years, witnessing and doctoring the many events and people who came through the Tougaloo corridor. Tougaloo was considered the haven for the social change advocates who found few welcoming doors opened to them at time. Smith was consistently in favor of choosing Tougaloo.

"Tougaloo’s site is the natural choice for a museum in honor of  civil rights in Mississippi," Smith said. "The effort to gain access to the air waves, a safe haven for beleaguered civil rights workers, a forum and gathering place for everyone, while all the time risking its charter issued by the state of Mississippi, all these things favor Tougaloo as a meaningful choice."

Radio personality Charles Evers, elder brother of the late Medgar Evers and the former mayor of Fayette, favored Jackson and voted for the city location up to the end.

"I preferred that it would have been set up here in Jackson because there would be more visitors and much easier for people to gain access to it in Jackson than it would be to go out to Tougaloo. But I accept it. I’m proud of Tougaloo. I’m just glad that we got it here in Mississippi."

Evers pointed out that the Northpark Mall developers took their developments up to County Line Road near Tougaloo, but they stopped short of developing that area, too. He said he hoped that the museum would make up for the neglect.

"We’ve got to still remember that this is still a racist country," Evers said. "And although we still talk the black talk, we don’t walk the black walk. But white people are going to walk white and talk white. And we’ve got to learn to do the same thing. I’m not talking about racism, but race pride. And that’s why I fought to get the museum in Jackson. Jackson is the capital of the state of Mississippi. It’s predominantly black. So why not have the museum here?"

Businessman Lee Bush felt the sheer effort to establish a civil rights museum anywhere in Mississippi "is a wonderful idea."

"I voted to locate it in Jackson, in the final analysis," Bush said. "I think the museum is going to have a flavor of Jackson to it no matter where it’s located, whether downtown or at Tougaloo."

College President Beverly Hogan was "elated" to have the museum at Tougaloo.

"We feel that it is an ideal location," she said. "Tougaloo’s history is Mississippi’s history. Mississippi figured prominently in bringing about change in the United States. When you look at other troubled nations such as South Africa, Argentina and others and look at how they have advanced democracy and change, you find that they looked to the United States. And when they looked at the United States they looked at Mississippi. And when you look at Mississippi, you look at Tougaloo College."

Pickering denied that he and former U. S. Senator Trent Lott had joined forces as students at Ole Miss to prevent interracial dating among students after the federal courts had ordered both the undergraduate and graduate schools of the university to admit black students  in proportion to their numbers in the state’s population.

"During the civil rights movement, I was county prosecutor for Jones County," Pickering said. "I testified in the trial of Sam Bowers when he was tried in the murder of Vernon Dahmer. And I cooperated with the FBI and fought the Klan in the 1960s. I lived here through the 1960s and I tell you that we have made tremendous progress since then."

Pickering said the likes the direction the state is taking in the reconciliation  of racial differences and disparities in all phases of life within the state of Mississippi.

"What my dream is," he said after Tuesday’s meeting, "is that when the museum is finished that any white child who goes through there will say "we’re never going to let this happen again. And any young African American will say that he or she will achieve whatever he might venture to dream they can be."

Groundbreaking for the museum is tentatively set for ...

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