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Witness America’s struggles and triumphs at these Southern history museums

Learn about the fight for Civil Rights and Americans’ experiences in World War II at enlightening and engaging history museums in the South.

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum , Jackson (Credit: Visit Mississippi)

A trip through the southern states of Mississippi River Country means coming face-to-face with America’s sometimes-painful history. But it’s a trip worth taking, as these illuminating museums show, telling stories of individual and group triumph amid unimaginable circumstances.

National Civil Rights Museum, Tennessee

One of the most moving museums to visit in the country, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is built around the former Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The museum, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, traces the Civil Rights struggle from slavery in the 17th century to present-day efforts for equality and justice. A tour of the museum ends with a look into two of the rooms King occupied during that fateful visit, preserved as they looked in April 1968.

Museum of Mississippi History & Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

These two museums are located in the same complex in the state capital of Jackson. The Museum of Mississippi History boasts a rich collection of historical items and interactive exhibits that tell the story of the state, from the native settlers of the South to the state’s role in the slave trade to the Civil Rights struggle and beyond. At the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, you’ll learn about iconic figures like Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer, as well as the anonymous freedom fighters who stood beside them in the noble fight. (Note: Mississippi is also home to several important stops along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.)

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Arkansas

Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas’ capital city was the site of a bitter desegregation fight in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court ruled public school segregation was unconstitutional. Today, visitors can learn about the Little Rock Nine—the nine African American students who enrolled at the school in September 1957—and the pitched battles that followed at the site’s visitor center or on a guided tour. (Tours are coordinated in conjunction with the school, which still operates as a high school today.)

National World War II Museum, Louisiana

The National World War II Museum tells the story of another struggle—the fight against the forces of evil during the Great War. The museum is New Orleans’ top-rated attraction and is a Smithsonian Institution affiliate. Visitors can walk through illuminating, interactive exhibits about key moments in the war, including D-Day and the Road to Tokyo. The museum’s Boeing Center is home to several aircraft, including a B-17 Flying Fortress, as well as an interactive submarine experience based on the last mission of the USS Tang.

Other history museums and historical sites to visit: