Tougaloo College leaders and elected officials gathered Saturday to celebrate the completion of Bennie G. Thompson Academic and Civil Rights Research Center, a project eight years in the making.
The 27,000-square-foot research center includes a 120-seat lecture hall, seminar rooms, and classrooms with audiovisual and computer-mediated technology. The center also serves as gallery space for the Tougaloo Art Collection. With the assistance of Tougaloo College professor Ronald Schnell, the college has obtained more than 1,400 pieces of artwork including African American sculptures and artifacts.
Duvall Decker Architects spent two years working on the center's final design plans and Fountain/Major Joint Venture constructed the building. It sits on the former site of the college's Beard Hall, which was demolished in 1999. Prior to its demolition, the hall served as a space where prominent speakers and students discussed civil rights.
Roy Decker, principal architect of Duvall Decker Architects, said the building is designed to honor Tougaloo's role in the Civil Rights Movement, create a place where civic discussion can continue and display important works of art.
"It's one of the most impressive private collections (of art) in the region," Decker said. "It includes modern American painters. It includes African sculpture and classic European modernist painters. It's quite an impressive collection, and it's never really had a home where it could be shown on campus."
In an interview for BOOM Magazine earlier this year, Decker said his firm designed the $8.5 million building to fit Tougaloo leader's aspirations.
"The most interesting thing to do was to find a voice for (civil-rights) history and for Tougaloo College. That voice, from their perspective, was not only memory. It was hope. They didn't want a historically nostalgic building, they wanted a progressive building that brought forward that history," Decker said.
Tougaloo President Beverly Wade Hogan was not immediately available for comment.