On June 12, 1963, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot by a white supremacist in Jackson, Mississippi. Rather than hide from this ugly moment in the city’s history, the city opened the acclaimed Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in 2017 to shed light on the sins of the past and celebrate the incredible figures who fought to right injustices in the state of Mississippi.
The museum is in good company, since Jackson offers numerous other enlightening museums, including the Old Capitol Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and the Mississippi Museum of Art. These and other quality museums prove a town can embrace both old-fashioned charm and culturally informative attractions.
Groups can combine Jackson’s soul food restaurants, music venues and festivals with some of these top museums.
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
The first three sections of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum feature a cramped physical environment to give the visitor a sense of the constraint of slavery. At one point, a lynching exhibit gives a disturbing but frank view of the atrocities committed in Mississippi.
After the dark exhibits depicting slavery, guests welcome the well-lit, spacious exhibits that represent the civil rights era. One sculpture in this section, titled “This Little Light of Mine,” features a chandelier that grows brighter and brighter as more visitors enter the room, demonstrating how all people can help brighten the world.
Opened in December 2017, the museum is the first state-sponsored civil rights museum in the country.
“The first three months of 2018 surpassed their expectations for attendance, drawing the amount of people they had predicted for the entire year,” said Kim Lewis, communications and destination development manager for Visit Jackson. “It has changed the face of tourism for us because it is new and people are so interested.”
Several civil rights activists and other museum critics have praised the museum’s riveting and honest portrayals of the state’s civil rights past.
“You have to allow yourself hours,” said Lewis. “I’ve been there three times, and I still haven’t seen everything. There is so much to take in.”
The museum focuses on Mississippi’s role in civil rights, and the connected Mississippi History Museum reflects the rest of the state’s 15,000 years of history. Groups often package them together.
Old Capitol Museum
When a group first enters the Old Capitol Museum, guides usher the group together into the center and then instruct everyone to look up. Viewers often gasp in awe at the building’s copper rotunda dome that rises 94 feet above the first floor.
“The building is stunning,” said Lewis. “It was stunning for its time, and it still is. The dome is a sight you don’t expect to see. It takes your breath away.”
The National Historic Landmark preserves the Greek Revival building that served as the state’s capitol from 1839 to 1903. Touring groups learn about Mississippi’s political history and architectural history, as well as the design techniques used in the building.
Groups can see the governor’s office, the Senate and the High Court, all restored to their 19th-century appearances. Guides reveal some of the most significant legislative actions passed in the building, such as the 1839 Married Women’s Property Act.
In 2006, the Mississippi Legislature appropriated $14.2 million to restore the Old Capitol after severe damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The hurricanes peeled off sections of the building’s roof with rain damage. The museum reopened in 2009.
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
Braving alligators, venomous snakes and other natural elements, Fannye Cook gathered and documented a thorough collection of Mississippi’s flora and fauna in the 1930s. Because of the biological researcher’s hard work, groups can explore the collection and more at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences.
Guides can lead groups through the museum’s 73,000-square-foot indoor and outdoor complex overlooking 305-acre LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. Life-size displays of the state’s habitats, a native plant garden and a 100,000-gallon aquarium educates visitors on Mississippi’s natural environments. The Swamp houses a 1,700-square-foot greenhouse for a safe way to experience the state’s marshes.
“The indoor alligator swamp is amazing,” said Lewis. “You walk out of the building into an enclosed sunroom. It stays humid in there. It looks like a natural habitat. Until I went there, I had no idea there were so many different types of turtles.”
Groups can explore beyond these exhibits with a behind-the-scenes tour, a scuba diver interactive experience or up-close encounters with alligators, turtles, snakes and other Mississippi creatures. The museum customizes group experiences and grants special group rates.
The museum sits within 50-acre LeFleur’s Bluff State Park, so a guided tour can easily pair with a scenic nature hike.
Mississippi Museum of Art
Photography by Jackson native Eudora Welty sits in the same building as paintings by nationally renowned artists such as Mary Cassatt in the Mississippi Museum of Art. The largest museum in the state, it includes works by American, British and Mississippi artists.
Groups can explore the permanent exhibits, as well as numerous rotating exhibits. One ongoing exhibit features pre-Columbian art, and another showcases the pottery of Mississippi artists Lee and Pub McCarty.
Topics for rotating exhibits in 2019 are wide-ranging, among them such selections as contemporary Chickasaw art and the history of the silhouette artform. In 2018, the National Endowment for the Humanities gave the museum a grant for the reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection, “The Mississippi Story,” which originally ran in 2007 with more than 5,500 pieces from 1865 to the present. Mississippi natives such as James Tooley Jr., George Ohr and Eudora Welty will once again appear in the exhibit, due to open in June.
Groups can wander through the museum on their own or with a guide, or they can attend a gallery talk with a curator. Packages for groups can include boxed lunches or catered meals with the museum cafe.
Patrons love taking home books, jewelry, home decor or other souvenirs from the museum store.
“The museum has an amazing gift shop,” said Lewis. “If we have a group looking for local products or shopping ideas, we refer them to the Mississippi Museum of Art’s gift shop.”
Outside, groups can walk through the 1.2-acre art garden past sculptures, native plants and water features.