As a world-renowned research university, Mississippi State is accustomed to making advancements that make history. Even so, Nov. 30, 2017, was a day like no other as MSU and the state of Mississippi celebrated the grand opening of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and the prestigious Frank J. and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana.
One of only six universities in the country to host a presidential library, MSU is the definitive repository for all things related to Grant’s two-term presidency, from 1869 to 1877, as well as his commanding role in the Union Army during the Civil War. The library contains the largest single collection of Grant papers and related items in the world.
Not surprisingly, the question of how the Grant Library found its home in the Deep South is heard often in Mississippi and around the nation.
University leaders actually began laying the groundwork years in advance, and with each momentous step in the library’s journey, Mississippi State demonstrated an unwavering commitment to preserve and illuminate the legacy of Grant — and the war that shaped America’s destiny — for future generations.
“The Civil War continues to be one of the most studied events in our nation’s history as well as one of the most instructive,” adds Keenum. “Having these extraordinary resources allows us to look at this important era not from a northern perspective or a southern perspective, but from an American perspective.”
To provide a state-of-the-art facility on MSU’s campus, Keenum worked with the Mississippi Legislature to secure a $10 million allocation to expand Mitchell Memorial Library. Launched in 2015, the project added 21,000 square feet to the library to accommodate the university’s vast presidential collection as well as galleries, exhibits and special events.
Free and open to the public, the nation’s newest presidential library also was designed to be one of its most inviting. MSU took steps to ensure that the library and museum devoted to America’s 18th president would appeal to learners of all ages — from professional historians to elementary-school students and all visitors in between.
“We worked with the best designers and architects in the country to create something that’s truly unique and innovative," said John F. Marszalek, Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at MSU. “All who are interested in learning more about Grant, Lincoln, the Civil War and the Gilded Age can find it here at Mississippi State.”
In the museum, visitors are encouraged to take a closer look at Grant’s life and times through enlightening artifacts, interactive exhibits, and life-size statues depicting Grant at various stages of his military and presidential careers. There’s even a kiosk where visitors can create and email souvenir postcards from the Grant Library.
The Grant Library also provides enriched training and employment opportunities for MSU students, particularly history majors who want to bolster their coursework and résumés with archival and editorial experience.
In addition to Keenum, Marszalek, Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice (ret.) and president of the U. S. Grant Association Frank J. Williams and Dean of Libraries Frances Coleman played instrumental roles in moving the Grant Association to Mississippi and establishing the Grant Presidential Library.
Previously based in Ohio and Illinois, the Grant Association moved its collection and headquarters to MSU in 2008 with Marszalek serving as its executive director and managing editor.
In 2017, the addition of the Frank J. and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, considered the largest privately owned Abraham Lincoln collection in the country, was donated to MSU and helped seal MSU’s standing as a leading national research center for the Civil War era and its central figures.