For the African American Military History Museum in Downtown Hattiesburg, Black History Month is the busiest time of the year, as it yields 30 – 50 visitors per day.
“Black History Month is special for us, and, obviously, we do extra programming,” said Alana Ledford, the museum’s collections and exhibitions specialist. “For example, we have story time with a soldier for the small children, where we have someone who is in the service read the kids a story. They get to know someone in uniform on a softer side of things. It’s a very human communication.”
The museum opened in 1942, and the then-USO Club served as a home for African-American soldiers stationed at Camp Shelby when U.S. forces were segregated. This is the only remaining USO constructed building and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as well as designated a Mississippi Landmark, according to the museum’s website.
Ledford said the USO Club was constructed by community volunteers who invested more than 40,000 hours in the project. On May 23, 2009, the African American Military History Museum opened its doors to more than 700 people who arrived to commemorate the grand opening of this unique attraction.
“This was a major place for Hattiesburg way back in the ‘40s, and when it was done being a USO, it was still an important place for the African-American community here,” Ledford said. “It’s important because it preserves this part of history for Hattiesburg, and certainly it tells the history of [African-American military], which is told in a limited capacity otherwise.”
Hattiesburg resident James Bramlett said the museum tells a story not only for African- Americans but also for United States citizens as a whole.
“I love the history, and the reason this museum is here as a separate African American History Museum is because it hasn’t always been adequately represented elsewhere,” Bramlett said. “They try to tell the local stories, too. This was [a soldier’s] home away from home, and the museum still tries to give that feeling and tell the story as a historical place, too.”
All of the African American Military History Museum’s fees and donations for February are being donated to Hattiesburg’s tornado relief effort.
Ledford said the museum’s employees are working to contribute in any way possible. In 2013, the museum suffered damage after a tornado destroyed the back part of the building. The establishment closed for a year due to renovations.
“We recovered after that, but we remember what it felt like when the tornado hit this place,” Ledford said. “People volunteered right away by helping clear the debris and ghetto archives. Because of that, when the tornado this year hit everyone else, we decided that we wanted to be able to give back.”
The African American Military History Museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to donate $1 for guided tours but are welcome to tour the museum individually.