“The New Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Refuses to Sugarcoat History.”

That was the headline of a New York Times article from December about the newly-opened civil rights museum in Jackson.

As the first state-run museum of its kind in the country, the institution is committed to telling the full and true history of civil rights in Mississippi.

That mission is what drew recent UNC Greensboro graduate Lance Wheeler ’17 MA to the museum, where he works as the manager of exhibitions.

“This job allows me to talk to people of color and tell them about the history that they often don’t get in the classroom,” he said. “I fill in the gaps. I enlighten people.”

Visitors to the museum witness the freedom struggle in eight interactive galleries that show the systematic oppression of black Mississippians and their fight for equality. Wheeler answers questions and provides historical context for visitors as they move through the exhibitions.

It’s this interaction that he enjoys the most.

“I think museums should be seen as community centers,” he said. “We don’t operate if we aren’t satisfying the people.”

As a master’s student in UNCG’s museum studies program, Wheeler and his peers worked on “States of Incarceration” – the first national traveling multimedia exhibition and coordinated public dialogue on mass incarceration.

The intensive two-year project made him a “better public historian and a better person.” Additionally, the hands-on experience helped him develop a strong work ethic and the communication skills needed for his current position.

Now 26 years old, Wheeler says he is exactly where he always wanted to be.

“I’m very excited to have this job,” he said. “I get to work at a museum that is telling the history honestly. I have the opportunity to tell personal stories that people can remember and relate to. That’s the fun part for me.”

 

 

Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography provided by Lance Wheeler