Remembering Hollis Watkins, Veteran of Mississippi Civil Rights Movement 

A native of Mississippi, Hollis Watkins, was born in 1941 and grew up on a small farm in Chisholm Mission and became one of the first young Mississippians to commit to full-time work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Watkins also served as founder and president of the Pike County Nonviolent Direct Action Committee, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and a county organizer in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project.

Inspired by civil rights leader Bob Moses, Watkins began organizing local voter registration drives within the Pike County community. He organized one of the first sit-ins in McComb at a Woolworth’s lunch counter with fellow activist Curtis Hayes and was arrested and jailed multiple times for participating in various demonstrations.

Watkins was known for his use of freedom songs as an inspiration to encourage others to join the movement. He traveled across the state and worked on voter registration campaigns with other civil rights leaders such as Vernon Dahmer. Watkins was also involved in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that challenged the state’s all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“Hollis Watkins dedicated his entire life to improving the lives of Black Mississippians,” said Michael Morris, director of the Two Mississippi Museums. “He was heavily involved in the creation of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, lending his voice to the museum’s central gallery. Museum staff are disheartened to learn of his death, but his legacy continues to inspire us.”

In 1989, Watkins co-founded Southern Echo, a community organization which works to develop leaders and empower local residents in support of the welfare of African American communities throughout Mississippi. He also served as chair of the Veteran of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Watkins was honored with a Fannie Lou Hamer Humanitarian Award from Jackson State University in 2011 and received an honorary doctorate from Tougaloo College in 2015.

Watkins died on September 20, 2023, at the age of 82.


Two Mississippi Museums to Host Community Solidarity Day

Join us at the Two Mississippi Museums on Sunday, September 17, from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. for Community Solidarity Day to coincide with the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People's Campaign.  Inspired by the mission of the Poor People’s Campaign and Resurrection City of 1968, Community Solidarity Day will provide visitors with an afternoon of free health, wellness, and family-friendly activities.   

Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center will host a health fair in the Nancy and Ray Neilsen Hall of History, offering services and screenings including COVID vaccines, blood pressure and glucose level checks, dental education, HIV testing and eye exams. Staff from the Healthy Start program will be available to offer health information for parents and kids. They will also have a mobile unit parked outside on North Street.   

Soul Center art activities for youth and their families will also be set up in the Hall of History, including activities based on elements of Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People's Campaign exhibit.  

All day: Soul Center craft activities–Nancy and Ray Neilsen Hall of History 

11:00 a.m.: Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health–Nancy and Ray Neilsen Hall of History. 

1:00 p.m.: Guided tour of Solidarity Now exhibit–Medgar and Myrlie Evers Exhibition Hall 

1:30 p.m.: Freedom Songs from Johnson Elementary–Lobby 

2:00 p.m.: Cooking demonstration with Nick Wallace–Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium  

2:30 p.m.: Dance performance by Montage–Mezzanine level 

3:00 p.m.: Guided tour of Solidarity Now exhibit–Medgar and Myrlie Evers Exhibition Hall  

3:30 p.m.: Yoga with Maya Morris–Craig H. Neilsen auditorium 

Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People's Campaign traveling exhibit, on view through September 24, explores a pivotal grassroots movement of the civil rights era: the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968. The exhibition examines the six-week protest community in Washington D.C. that called the nation’s attention to the effects of poverty on millions of Americans.   

For more information call, 610-576-6580, visit the MDAH Facebook page, or email             


Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program Accepting Applications

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) is accepting grant applications for preservation projects across the state. The 2023 Mississippi Legislature has provided funding for the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program (CHPG) and the Mississippi Historic Site Preservation Grant program (HSPG).


The Community Heritage Preservation Grant program helps preserve, restore, rehabilitate, and interpret Mississippi courthouses and schools across the state. In communities that participate in the Certified Local Government (CLG) program, buildings other than courthouses and schools are also eligible, if they have been designated as Mississippi Landmarks.

There are currently over fifty Certified Local Government communities in Mississippi. State agencies, county or municipal governments, school districts, and nonprofit organizations granted 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status may submit applications. A cash match of at least twenty percent is required, and grants will be paid on a reimbursable basis upon successful completion of the project. To learn which communities have Certified Local Government designation click here.


The Historic Site Preservation Grant program offers grants for the acquisition of sites related to Civil War battles, Native American archaeology, and civil rights history. Grants, which require a one-to-one match, can be used for land acquisition and property preservation costs. Colleges and universities, historical societies, state agencies, local governments, and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply.

Guidelines and applications may be downloaded for both opportunities from the MDAH website under the Grant Programs section of the Preservation Planning and Development page. The deadline to submit completed applications is September 29, 2023, before 5 p.m.

The MDAH Board of Trustees will award the grants at its quarterly meeting in January 2024. For more information call 601-576-6940 or email


MDAH Awarded $187,059 by National Endowment for the Humanities for 2024 Teacher Workshops on Civil Rights Movement 

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) has been awarded $187,059 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to present two workshops on teaching civil rights history. 

This MDAH project was awarded as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of History and Culture Grant program, and it will mark the 60th anniversary of a pivotal event in American history, 1964’s Freedom Summer. MDAH will partner with National History Day to coordinate and lead the program. 

Seventy teachers from across the nation will have the opportunity to attend one of two weeklong workshops starting at the Two Mississippi Museums in Jackson, and then traveling to specific locations in the state that were central to the historic events of Freedom Summer. 

“This grant is an incredible opportunity for us to show how this landmark event goes beyond Mississippi history; it's truly a national event,” said Al Wheat, MDAH director of education. “Bringing teachers from across the country to Mississippi to see our sites, analyze our primary sources, and visit locations where the history actually happened will make a positive impact not just on workshop attendees, but on their students." 

Teachers will learn about the civil rights events in 1964 that changed Mississippi and the nation. The workshops, which will run from July 8–12, 2024, and July 22–26, 2024, will consist of two different groups of K-12 teachers, with 35 per group, who will gather at the Two Mississippi Museums and the MDAH archives to interact with historians, Civil Rights Movement veterans, educators, and museum professionals. Teachers will collaborate to develop inquiry-based classroom activities and lessons about Freedom Summer using primary sources found in MDAH’s archives and experiential, site-based learning at the Two Mississippi Museums and key civil rights sites across Mississippi.  

The Landmarks of American History and Culture program supports a series of one-week residential, virtual, and combined format workshops across the nation that enhance and strengthen how K-12 educators, higher education faculty, and humanities professionals study sites, areas, or regions of historic and cultural significance and incorporate place-based teaching and learning in the humanities. 

National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at


Community Solidarity Day

Join us at noon on Sunday, September 17, for Community Solidarity Day at the Two Mississippi Museums. Inspired by the mission of the Poor People's Campaign and Resurrection City of 1968, Community Solidarity Day features an afternoon of health screenings by the Hinds County Comprehensive Health Center, a cooking demonstration by Nick Wallace, a yoga class, and other activities that coincide with our traveling exhibit, Solidarity Now! 1968 Poor People's Campaign. For more information, contact 601-576-6850 or email

Free Admission: Hezekiah Watkins' Birthday

In celebration of civil rights veteran Hezekiah Watkins' birthday, the Two Mississippi Museums will host a free admission day on Friday, September 1. Visitors are invited to listen to Watkins' story of being a Freedom Rider at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the This Little Light of Mine gallery, purchase a signed copy of his book Pushing Forward, and enjoy a cupcake in honor of his birthday. For more information, contact 601-576-6850 or email

FedEx to Sponsor 2024 Free MLK, Jr. Weekend at the Two Mississippi Museums

Thanks to the continued support of FedEx, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History will offer three days of free admission in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in January 2024.

Over 3,600 people visited the museums during the 2023 FedEx-sponsored free weekend, with the annual MLK Night of Culture drawing a crowd of 400 people for a diverse, evening showcase of live entertainment.

“FedEx has long invested in community organizations, such as those honoring the legacy of the many heroes of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Jerome Heard, FedEx DEI communications specialist. “FedEx is proud to continue supporting the Two Mississippi Museums and their efforts to help visitors connect with Dr. King’s legacy.”

Dr. King’s involvement in Mississippi included visiting Greenwood in support of Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964, testifying in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) during the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and continuing James Meredith’s March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson, following the assassination attempt against Meredith in 1966.   

“We are grateful to FedEx for continuing their generous sponsorship of our Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration,” said Michael Morris, director of the Two Mississippi Museums. “Welcoming the public into the museums as guests of FedEx is a magnificent way to honor this important holiday.”  

For more information, call 601-576-6850, or email


FBI Returns 19th Century Mississippi Rifle to MDAH

FBI special agent Randy Deaton with Nan Prince, MDAH director of collections
FBI special agent Randy Deaton with Nan Prince, MDAH director of collections.

A ceremony was held at the Two Mississippi Museums on Friday, July 21, for the return of a stolen rifle used in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and their law enforcement partners exchanged custody of the 19th century rifle with staff of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH). 

The .54 caliber Eli Whitney rifle was initially donated to MDAH in 1903, along with a bullet-marred cartridge box and belt, by the daughter of Private Charles H. Gibbs of Raymond. More than 40 years ago, the rifle was stolen while on loan to Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis in Biloxi.  

Nan Prince, director of collections at MDAH, formally accepted custody of the rifle from the FBI. “MDAH is grateful to the FBI Art Crime Team, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and everyone who was involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case,” said Prince. “We are thrilled to have this important piece of Mississippi history back in the collection.”  

Gibbs carried the rifle while serving in the Raymond Fencibles of the 1st Regiment of the Mississippi Rifle volunteers, commanded by Captain R. N. Downing, under Jefferson Davis in the Mexican-American War. Gibbs fought at the Battle of Monterrey and the Battle of Buena Vista.  

Gibbs was injured on February 22, 1847, at the Battle of Buena Vista, survived his injuries and lived in Raymond with his wife, Ellen Elder Gibbs, until his untimely death by yellow fever in the 1850s. His name remains engraved on a plate on the stock of the rifle, along with inscribed dates of the battles he fought in Mexico. 

Various news articles of the era state that, following Gibbs’s discharge in 1847, the rifle was reissued to another, unknown member of the Raymond Fencibles. The rifle was later confiscated by the Union during the Civil War. The weapon disappeared for several decades until it was returned to Ellen Gibbs, after the discovery of her late husband's name marking the weapon. 

“The FBI’s Art Crime Program and members of the Art Crime Team are honored to return to the state of Mississippi the Charles Gibbs rifle that was stolen so many years ago,” said FBI special agent Randy Deaton of New Orleans. “The investigation that resulted in the recovery of this rifle along with other items, was conducted by the FBI Philadelphia Field Office and the Art Crime Team members stationed there.”

The recovered rifle will be placed alongside Gibbs’s cartridge box, also carried by him during his service in the Mexican-American War, on display in the Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson.  

In December 2021, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania indicted Michael Corbett of Newark, Delaware, for possession of stolen firearms and other items stolen from museums in the 1970s. In August 2022, Corbett pleaded guilty to the possession of stolen items transported interstate. In accordance with his plea agreement, he turned over the stolen Mississippi rifle to the FBI. 

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History was founded in 1902 to collect, preserve, and provide access to the archival resources of the state.


The Harvest Screening

Join us for a screening of The Harvest at 6 p.mon Thursday, August 31, at the Two Mississippi Museums. Directed by Sam Pollard and Douglas Blackmon, the documentary tells the story of the fight to integrate schools in Leland, Mississippi, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. A Q&A with Douglas Blackmon will follow the screening. Doors open at 5 p.m. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m., courtesy of the Mississippi Humanities Council. For more information, call 601-576-6850 or email


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