We certainly know Oxford, Miss. as something of a cultural mecca for the state, music lovers and bibliophiles across the globe. William Faulkner, Square Books, Thacker Mountain Radio, John Grisham and the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Blues Archives have all contributed to the mystique of Oxford.
Now this college town-gone-global is also home to a new cultural attraction that celebrates black history and preserves a historic landmark that is a symbol of community for the city. The Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center officially opened Sept. 21, 2013, after more than a decade of fundraising and renovations.
Originally organized as Burns Methodist Episcopal Church for freed African Americans in Lafayette County after the Civil War, the current structure was built in 1910 and housed the congregation until 1974 when the church relocated. The historic building was later called the Belfry and was used as office space until its last owner, John Grisham, donated the building to the Oxford-Lafayette Heritage Foundation in 2002. Grisham noted that he preferred “to give the building to some organization that will preserve it rather than selling it to someone who will destroy it.”
Today, after extensive renovations spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation and Oxford Development Association, the Burns-Belfry lives on as a digital museum and meeting space for nonprofit groups. Exhibits cover the history of the old Burns Church, including a video presentation and an overview of African American history from enslavement through the modern Civil Rights Movement. Continued improvements to the exhibits will include displays about other major cultures in the city, including early settlers and the Chickasaw tribe.
The renovated structure is considered a milestone in more than one way. In addition to the lengthy effort to raise funds to restore Burns-Belfry architecturally, community leaders say that the building represents a spirit of cooperation that Mississippi has been trying to foster for many years.
Burns-Belfry is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 3 and Sundays from 1 to 4. The museum is closed, however, on home football Saturdays (we love our football, right?). Admission is free, but free-will donations are appreciated.
For more information about the Burns-Belfry Museum and Multicultural Center, visit burns-belfry.com.
(Photos courtesy of www.burns-belfry.com)