Blood still stains the driveway of Medgar Evers’ home in Jackson, Mississippi.
It’s soaked into the flagstones where the 37-year-old civil rights campaigner – who led efforts for desegregation and black voter registration in America’s south – fell to the ground on June 12, 1963, shot in the back by a sniper’s bullet as he unloaded his car.
The murder weapon is now displayed at the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, amongst other hard-hitting exhibits which hold a mirror up to the state’s history of racism.
Located five miles from Evers’ home, the museum opens on 9 December alongside the new Museum of Mississippi History, with which it shares a lobby. The joint launch is no coincidence – the two museums’ overlapping topics of slavery, Civil War, Jim Crow segregation laws and the Delta blues provide a comprehensive and unflinching sweep of Mississippi’s history.
It’s not the first time the state has confronted its history of racism head on. From 2011, a series of “Freedom Trail” markers were placed at sites across Mississippi, including the Evers home. But the trail has been blighted by controversy – two markers associated with Emmett Till, whose lynching galvanised the civil rights movement, were vandalised, in an ugly reminder that racism is alive and well in the Southern state.
Those behind the new Jackson museum, which is the country’s first state-funded institution dedicated to civil rights, are determined this history should no longer be ignored.
“It’s a good thing for the state of Mississippi to show its darkness,” says museum director Pamela Junior, who was born and bred in Jackson and describes Mississippi as “ground zero” for civil rights. “If we can show, with authenticity and truthfulness, the history of the state, then we are making amends.”
The museum shares its premises with the state history museum (Mississippi Civil Rights Museum)
It’s a timely move. Against a backdrop of far right rallies and accusations of police brutality, a recent poll showed 70 per cent of Americans believe race relations are poor in the US. The Confederate Flag – already removed from government buildings in Alabama and South Carolina for its racist symbolism – is still part of the Mississippi state flag.
“Racism is here and it’s alive,” says Junior. “It is in most places. But there are also people who want change.”
In 2011, a team including lead designer Richard Woolacott…