The legacy of the African-American experience goes deep in Mississippi, tracing the arc of history from enslavement through war and emancipation and the struggle for freedom and equality. In many ways, Mississippi was the epicenter of the civil rights movement and, here today, you can walk in the footsteps of the movement’s heroes and learn their inspiring stories.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum tells the unvarnished stories of the American civil rights movement in Mississippi between 1945 and 1970. Learn about the organized effort to keep segregation in place and landmark events, such as the Freedom Summer, when thousands of Mississippians and out-of-state supporters came together to register black Mississippians to vote. Next door, the Museum of Mississippi History puts this important story in the larger context of the state’s history.
Longwood, the largest octagonal house in America, was built by enslaved men and women working alongside paid Northern craftsmen. Construction halted in 1861 at the outset of the war, leaving much of the mansion’s interior frozen in time. The bottom-floor living quarters of this National Historic Landmark contain original furnishings, while the upper floors remain unfinished. Interpretive posters inside the home provide insight into the lives of the enslaved people who lived on the plantation.
The Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum is located inside the Spires Bolling House, in Holly Springs, where Wells-Barnett was born to an enslaved family. Following emancipation, she became a teacher, an acclaimed journalist, and a public speaker. Wells-Barnett was an ardent anti-lynching crusader and champion for women’s suffrage. She was also one of two women who signed the call that led to the formation of the NAACP.
The lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in August 1955 is widely considered to be the spark that ignited the civil rights movement. Till’s disfigured body was displayed at an open-casket funeral in Chicago, shocking the world at the crime’s brutality. Then Till’s murderers were found not guilty and walked out of the Tallahatchie County Courthouse as free men. Across the street, the Emmett Till Interpretive Center provides context to the story and its enduring legacy.
Before the Civil War, Natchez was one of the nation’s most prosperous cities, benefiting from the cotton economy and enslaved labor. The Forks of the Road, now recognized as a National Historical Park, was the site of the second-largest slave market in the Deep South, where thousands of lives were bought and bartered. Today, the site contains informative panels telling their story, as well as a striking display of shackles and chains embedded in concrete.
Peaceful protests during the Civil Rights Movement were often met with strong opposition and force. When nearly 800 men, women, and children gathered in Natchez to march in 1965, many were arrested and held at the Natchez City Auditorium, the city jail, and even the state prison at Parchman, 200 miles away, where they received particularly harsh treatment. A monument stands outside the auditorium today, displaying the names of 400 of the march’s participants.
On June 16, 1964, members of the Ku Klux Klan harassed and beat congregants of the Mt. Zion UMC in Philadelphia, then returned that evening and set fire to the church. The building burned to the ground, with only the church bell surviving. Three civil rights workers—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman— traveled to Philadelphia to investigate and were ultimately murdered, resulting in an FBI investigation codenamed MIBURN for “Mississippi Burning.” A marker in front of the rebuilt church memorializes the three lives lost.
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