• 55°

Downhome dignified: Bicentennial did us proud

I didn’t see many area residents at Saturday’s bicentennial celebration/museums openings. For those of you with an interest in historic happenings, I’m going to provide a bird’s eye view of the event.

7:15 a.m. Orange barricades are pulled into place on State Street.

7:45 Security check points are set up on two corners in front of the museums. Everyone entering the zone is wanded.

7:55 A group of Americorps volunteers from Vicksburg arrive. Volunteer Coordinator Elizabeth Coleman says they’re part of some 420 individuals who will be wearing the goldenrod scarf — a volunteer identification.    

8:15 Three members of Vernon Dahmer’s family sit in a patch of sunny sidewalk. One is Dahmer’s widow. She is 92 and says she donated pieces of her husband’s burned truck for an exhibit in the Civil Rights Museum.

8:20 The directors of the two new museums, Rebecca Myers and Pamela Junior, share a big hug on the sidewalk. 

8:24 The sound of Mississippi blues music pours from speakers in Entergy Plaza, the green area in front of the museum complex.

8:30 A staff member ushers the Dahmer ladies inside a building to get them out of the wind.

8:45 A member of the stage crew shimmies up a ladder column to adjust lights.

9:00 More than a thousand chairs wait for ceremony spectators. Staff members tilt them one by one to drain snowy slush. 

9:30 Sixty-two Boy Scouts from Jackson’s Troop 8 wait in a line beside the buildings. They wear black thermal shirts under their uniforms and knit caps. Their Scout Master, Bill Spence, explains the troop will take part in the ribbon cutting ceremony.

10:14 President Trump lands at the Jackson airport.

10:22 News reporters gather around Philemon Williams, a vocal African-American Trump supporter decked out in a red, white, and blue top hat.

10:25 A helicopter circles while a girls choir sings of peace on Earth. They are dressed alike in short sleeves. The temperature is in the 40s. 

10:35 President Trump tours the Civil Rights Museum.

10:55 The Utica Jubilee Singers, with a capella harmonies, entertain the growing mass of spectators outside.

11:00 President Trump speaks to an audience of approximately 200 at an invitation-only event inside the museum complex.

11:20 The President leaves, and dignitaries walk from the museum lobby to the dais. Photographers line their path, snapping shots of Jim Barksdale, Governor Phil Bryant, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Mike Espy, and others.     

11:42 The president of Mission Mississippi opens the program with prayer.

11:50 Justice Reuben Anderson, Master of Ceremonies, introduces a slate of powerhouse speakers.

12:00 Myrlie Evers takes the podium. Her measured words resonate: “A lot of people have opinions about Mississippi. Then they visit.”

12:30 p.m. La June Montgomery Tabron of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation announces a $1 million donation, describing the museums as a “testament to the healing process that’s transforming Mississippi.”

12:40 Greg Harper tells about a past visit to the driveway where Medger Evers was slain: “We heard Mrs. Evers share the story of her husband’s murder. There were no dry eyes as you moved us to a place many of us had never considered.”

12:45 U. S. Sen. Roger Wicker speaks to the whole span of Mississippi’s history, one of few references to the actual bicentennial side of the celebration.

1:00 After participating in the museums’ red ribbon cutting, Myrlie Evers, former Gov. William Winter, and Gov. Phil Bryant lead a group of children through the front doors of the museum complex as the first official visitors.

1:05 The Bicentennial Choir provides background sound as the formal events come to a close. Visitors leave with commemorative medallions while “This Little Light of Mine” echoes through the streets. The piece is the theme song for the Civil Rights Museum.

And all day long, Mississippi Department of Archives and History staff members and volunteers worked behind the scenes, pouring coffee, carrying boxes, answering calls, and handling the stress with smiles. They were especially hospitable to the media, providing an entire wing of the William Winter Building for their designated use. After the crowds dissipated, I watched a MDAH staff member bring a map of downtown Jackson over to a group of German journalists who had requested one. As they snacked on complimentary pretzels, I asked what they thought of Mississippi. The topic quickly narrowed when they realized I was a resident. “Did Trump’s visit embarrass you?” they asked me. “Have you seen the protesters two streets over? What’s your take on the politicians who didn’t show?”   

Wow, I thought to myself. That’s the story they want to cover — the non-story.

So here’s what I told them (just before they lost interest): Saturday was a positive day for Mississippi. I couldn’t be prouder.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.