The State of Mississippi today opens the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, a cultural and educational destination sharing the powerful stories of African-American Mississippians and their fight for equal rights under the law. Designed by global architecture firm Perkins+Will, along with Architect of Record ECD—a three-firm joint venture of Eley Guild Hardy Architects, Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons, PA, and Dale Partners—the new museum honors the struggles and achievements of what is known as the Mississippi Movement during the years 1945 to 1970.
“Our team was moved by the incredible stories of African American Mississippians, and how the systematic oppression they experienced led to a prolonged struggle for equality that ultimately changed history,” says Phil Freelon of Perkins+Will. “The architecture of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum honors this struggle and sets the stage for visitors to learn about and experience these heroic stories.”
The 70,000-square-foot museum is the only state-operated civil rights museum in the U.S. It was built simultaneously with the new Museum of Mississippi History as part of the state’s bicentennial celebration. The two museums are interconnected institutions that share a common lobby, civic plaza, and open-air courtyard. The west elevation of MCRM faces the entry plaza and builds on the idea that conflicting lines of tension can converge and eventually lead to resolution and enlightenment. This architectural element, composed of terra-cotta panels, offers a subtle yet compelling introduction to the stories of struggle and triumph conveyed by the exhibits within eight distinct and themed galleries inside.
According to Chris Garris of Perkins+Will, a central objective of the design was to create an interior cultural space that seamlessly integrates and unifies the permanent exhibits and the eight interactive galleries:
“This overlay of spaces is inspired by the core idea for the permanent exhibit, which is the idea voiced in the gospel song ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ The song’s refrain expresses the light in each person and how, whether standing up alone or joined together, each little bit of light can break the darkness.”
The song’s theme of light penetrating darkness is expressed on the interior by the cylindrical space at the center of the exhibit galleries. This gesture is reinforced by the sky lit oculus, which extends through the roof plane and is visible from outside of the building. Emanating from the oculus are framed openings in the east, west, and south exterior elevations. This configuration allows light and views into the central exhibit space and in so doing, directs multiple views from the core of the exhibit to various points around the site. The building thereby embodies the central theme of the permanent exhibit – illuminating darkness with the light of truth.