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Mississippi’s New Capitol is an Architectural Wonder
that Belongs to All of Us

Mac Gordon

Donuts on Cake

The mere mention of Mississippi’s “New Capitol” building in Jackson evokes affection that’s no doubt felt for similar structures in the other 49 states.

A recent Facebook post by the advocacy organization Empower Mississippi used a photo from inside our stunning Capitol as prop for a report on the current legislative session.

The new Capitol building has been in use since 1903. That’s when the “Old Capitol” was retired at least as the arena for the hammering out of new laws and refinement of others.

The Old Capitol rests a few blocks south of the New Capitol and is indeed a regal place itself. It was opened just before the Civil War and was the site of Mississippi’s secession from the Union by legislative act of 1861. The quaint facility is now a museum of state government.

As a staff member, I sat in on an official session of the Legislature in the early 2000’s in the Old Capitol, a moment not to be forgotten. Former Gov. William Winter addressed the gathering. A special guest was Wilson F. “Bill” Minor, longtime dean of the Capitol Press Corps. His name was placed in the official record. Bill, now deceased, was pleased.

But, this is about the New Capitol and the esteem for which most Mississippians hold for that stately edifice facing High Street in Jackson. This architectural wonder was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 by the National Park Service.

My Facebook post engendered more than 100 responses on a Sunday, typically a slow day for such activity because most Americans find the social media platform nauseating on the Lord’s Day. Included were many comments by myriad FB friends/readers, including a veritable assemblage of persons who, like I, have been fortunate to earn a living within its spaces.

Several people used requisite words like “gorgeous” and “beautiful” to describe the capitol because those descriptions fit. A former reporter, Rex Baker, said, “It was just a bit awesome to walk in there each time.” A consultant who has long represented business interests in the building, Beth Clay, said, “It is an extraordinary landmark and one that all Mississippians should be proud of.”

A few former legislative members spoke up. Former State Rep. John Mayo of Clarksdale said he always realized “just how important our work was for 2.5 million lives.” State Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson said he has a “greater appreciation” for the Capitol each day.

Longtime Insurance Commissioner George Dale remembered that his “Uncle H,” Gov. Houston Longino, served when the New Capitol was opened.

In 2021, a group from wife Mary Lee’s hometown of Blakely, Ga., visited us at the Capitol. In Jackson for a Spanish exhibit, the group, graciously greeted by then-Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, was as impressed with the Capitol’s grandeur as they were with the art.

When the late University of Mississippi historian David Sansing spoke in 2003 at the 100th anniversary of the New Capitol, he called it “majestic.” He praised it as the place where women gained the right to vote in 1920. Sansing called teachers “the foot soldiers in the army of the New Mississippi.”

He added, “Too many white Mississippians still celebrate the past. Too many Black Mississippians will not forgive, or forget, the sins of our fathers ... We cannot rewrite the past, but we can chart our future.”
Another legislative session’s end is looming. Let’s hope the decisions made under the Capitol’s gold-leafed dome fulfill Dr. Sansing’s words and match the glory of this 171,000-square-foot Beaux-Arts classic that belongs to all of us.

Donuts on Cake
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