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‘This Is Our State’: Museums’ Opening Makes and Breaks Peace


Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Opening

Charlie Davis, a 9-year-old from West Point, Miss., read the panel outside an Emmett Till exhibit not long after the doors of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum opened Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

When he got to the details of Till's death, he stopped, looked at his aunt, and said, "What?"

"That little boy right there," Lakenshia Davis said, pointing to Till's photo. "They found his corpse in the river."

Nearby, Charlie's grandmother, Willie Davis, studied a photo taken inside the all-white West Point High School. Post-integration, she taught at the school for 31 years.

When she was in seventh grade, Willie was one of about 20 black students to integrate the old Terry High School. "I went to class, and the first thing that the teacher would do was move my chair away from everybody else's. But one day I went Rosa Parks on her. I was like, 'I'm not moving,'" she said.

Willie spent the rest of that day in the principal's office. But her recollection is a metaphor of opening day of the first state-funded civil-rights museum in the United States—survivors recounting stories, fighters taking principled stands.

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