Tougaloo College site chosen for civil rights museum

Published 4:56 pm Tuesday, March 11, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — The $73 million National Civil Rights Museum will be located on a 9-acre site at Tougaloo College in north Jackson.

A commission set up by Gov. Haley Barbour voted 22-9 in favor of the location, which sits off West County Line Road in north Jackson. Seven of the votes were cast by proxy Tuesday and eight on the divided 39-member commission did not vote.

“On a scale of one to 10, this is a 12,” consultant Pete LaPaglia said of the Tougaloo site.

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Opponents argued that downtown Jackson would be a more viable site for the museum, which is expected to draw 125,000 visitors a year. Along with several other museums and tourist attractions, proponents say downtown Jackson was at the heart of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.

“We’ve just missed a huge opportunity to set this museum off on the right foot,” Jackson City Councilman Leslie McLemore said. “This was just a huge opportunity. We just blew it in the biggest way.”

McLemore participated in the Mississippi civil rights movement during the 1960s and said downtown Jackson hosted several significant events, such as the campaign by Freedom Riders, a sit-in at the Woolworth’s and the attempted sit-in at the public library.

“That occurred in downtown Jackson right on State Street, right on Capitol Street,” McLemore said. “So the battleground for the civil rights movement was downtown Jackson.”

Next, the governor will choose a board of directors and the nonprofit museum’s fundraising effort will begin.

Barbour has said he wants to limit new bond debt this year. That means there’s little chance of any substantial state money anytime soon to move the project forward.

Plans call for a 73,650 square-foot space that will include an interpretive center, theater, classrooms and meeting rooms. The new site is about 10 miles north of downtown Jackson and can be seen from Interstate 55.

Kane Ditto, a former Jackson mayor and state representative, said the site is too far from downtown Jackson where there are 25 civil rights sites on a walking tour. He said the civil rights museum would dovetail nicely with new museum projects coming for the Old Capitol building and a state history archive.

“The civil rights museum should be downtown because the civil rights movement was an inherently urban movement,” Ditto said.