Mississippi legislators on April 5 approved plans for a new civil rights museum in that state.
“I think it’s ironic, and it’s a testament of how far we’ve come that on this particular day we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, black and white, and in a way that pays great honor to the memory of Martin Luther King,” Sen. John Horhn told The Jackson Clarion Ledger.
The legislators approved $38 million in bonds for the civil rights museum and a history museum, which Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, told the Associated Press he hopes opens by 2017.
Lt. Gov Phil Bryant (R) told the Clarion Ledger that Barbour convinced Republican senators to approve a deal without a stipulation that private matching funds for construction would be required to lower the cost to the state, a measure that would’ve likely killed the bill.
“The governor has been able to convince senators that this is an economic development issue,” Bryant said. “He’s very convincing and a number of senators believed his argument.”
Given the good will that Barbour may have received from the African-American community with the effort, some in the state believe the move was a political ploy to better position himself in a possible 2012 presidential run.
“This is just an attention-grabber to launch his presidential race,” Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson told Reuters. “It was not a priority for the administration before the series of race-related controversies.”
Those controversies include introducing Barbour’s proposal to merge the state’s HBCUs and a statement he made to the Weekly Standard praising the pro-segregation Citizens Council in his hometown of Yazoo City.
Bryant defended Barbour, telling the Clarion Ledger that there has been no issue “that the governor has been more passionate and determined about than this one.”
Both the civil rights and the history museum would be constructed near the Capitol building in Jackson. A privately owned National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn, has been open since 1991, centered around the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.