Hatfield firm creates pieces for new civil rights museum in Mississippi; Trump visits Saturday

  • “This Little Light of Mine” light sculpture at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. The sculpture was created by Monadnock Media Inc. in Hadley. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2017 7:22:20 PM

HATFIELD — A new museum that recognizes the struggles and suffering black Americans endured for freedom and equality in Mississippi during the 20th century has been thrust into the national spotlight after President Donald J. Trump accepted a controversial invitation to be at its grand opening Saturday.

But before the attention the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum received this week, including a decision Thursday by Civil Rights pioneer and Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson to boycott the inaugural events because of the president’s presence, designers and producers from a multimedia design company in Hatfield have been completing months of work on the exhibits and the museum’s centerpiece.

Under construction in Jackson since 2014, a team from Monadnock Media, Inc., located on North Street, has overseen the work on the galleries focusing on events in Mississippi from the Jim Crow Era through 1976. Many of the interpretative exhibits use the voices of people who experienced the pain and horrors of segregation in the Deep South.

Speaking from the museum Friday afternoon, Monadnock Executive Director Steven Bressler said his team is putting the finishing touches on the main installation “This Little Light of Mine,” a 30-foot- tall light sculpture suspended over the heart of the gallery.

A major piece of the visitor experience, this work of art produces a light show and, every 30 minutes, plays one of two freedom songs, “This Little Light of Mine” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” sung by children, college students and adults and recorded in a local Mississippi studio.

When it’s not in “show mode,” Bressler said, it responds to movements of people below it. The idea is that each person who walks below it is adding another light to the Civil Rights movement.

“It’s going to be a really cool experience, a transformative experience,” Bressler said.

The piece is a necessary component of the museum to offer a place for reflection, contemplation and inspiration after exiting the gallery spaces.

Monadnock worked with Hilferty & Associates of Athens, Ohio, to create all the multimedia and interactive components.

As the first state-sponsored museum focused on Civil Rights in the country, Bressler said there was concern that it might sugarcoat or somehow diminish history. But he is confident that it doesn’t do this, observing that exhibits include the 1955 lynching of black teenager Emmitt Till, the 1963 murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers and the Freedom Summer murders of 1964.

In addition, there is a replica of a Mississippi schoolhouse that shows the state’s response to the Brown vs. Board of Education 1954 Supreme Court ruling that continued to keep children segregated. Local author and Gazette columnist Bruce Watson offered input for this.

Lewis and Thompson on Thursday issued a joint statement that they would not attend or participate in the museum’s opening if President Trump didn’t back out.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum,” they wrote. “The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi. President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.”

But they are encouraging all Mississippians, as well as all Americans, to visit the museum as soon as Trump departs.

While not affected by the president’s visit, though he has noticed an increase in Secret Service members, Bressler said he understands the concern that the president’s arrival can be divisive and not what the museum is about.

“The thinking is opening this museum will be about healing,” Bressler said.

Bressler said Monadnock specializes in museums and visitors centers, and has worked on several across the country, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York; the Red Skelton Museum of American Comedy in Vincennes, Indiana; and the Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa, Florida.

Closer to home, Monadnock created the interactive game Rhymesville for the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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