A Mystery: Which building(s) were “The Fairgrounds Motel”?

After yesterday’s post about the Agriculture and Industry buildings on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, a new MissPreser Catherine sent me a couple of links she found on the internet that bring the confusion over which buildings were the ones used to house Civil Rights protesters in the summer of 1963 into sharper focus.

One link, to the book The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care by John Dittmer, seems to clearly point to the A&I buildings:

They crammed demonstrators into paddy wagons and large caged trucks and delivered them to the state fairgrounds nearby, where they were deposited into two large buildings used for industrial and agricultural exhibits. The 482 people under arrest had literally been herded into cattle barns.

If, in fact, he is referring to the A&I buildings, he overstates the case by calling the buildings “literally cattle barns.”

On the other hand, there is another, much larger barrel-vaulted building across the fairway from the A&I buildings that is a livestock pavilion and would legitimately fit the bill of “cattle barn.” Another link Catherine sent, This one to A Voice from the Civil Rights Era by Frankye V. Regis, actually pictures this Livestock Pavilion with this caption:

The Mississippi Fairground livestock exhibit building where black youths were jailed in the early 1960s.

I can’t tell for sure from the Google Books snippet at that link, but it seems that this information came from the author’s brother, who was the one actually imprisoned at the fairgrounds.

So which is it, Livestock Pavilion or A&I Buildings? On the one hand, we have a building with the big word “Livestock” written on its front, which seems to fit the bill of “cattle barns.” But, it’s a massive three-part building, with a central enclosed judging arena flanked by two huge barns. Why would this building need a fence around it to hold the protesters, and how does it qualify as “two buildings”?  On the other hand, across the fairway, we have two buildings that were never “cattle barns” with an area in between that you can easily envision being fenced in as an outdoor area for going and coming.

To help you visualize, here’s a map showing the buildings from above.

Who out there can give us the answer to this Persistent Question?

Apart from any Civil Rights questions, the Livestock pavilion is a much more impressive building than the A&I Buildings, and I was happy to have time and space to explore it while taking pictures at the Fairgrounds recently. Built in 1953, it was designed by the Jackson firm Jones & Haas, who did the Coliseum a decade later.

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Categories: Architectural Research, Civil Rights

6 replies

  1. I remember reading somewhere that architect Bob Adams was one of those held at the “Motel”–perhaps he might remember which building it was?

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  2. I spoke with Billy Orr at the MS State Fairgrounds, who says that the A & I buildings are the ones that were used to “jail” the protestors in 1963. He thinks the confusion in the sites, the Livestock building was mentioned in several books, is due to them being so close to each other. The A & I buildings are “18,000 sq ft, clear span buildings, and, at the time, had no roof. They have been used for exhibits and flea markets.” In different books the buildings were referred to as “cattle stockyards”, “animal stables” and “livestock pens”, which I think is where the confusion lies. Hope this helps!

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  3. Well, that’s going straight to the source–thanks for doing that Catherine, and thanks for sharing!

    I’m going to adopt a “show-me” attitude about the “had no roof” statement though–that makes no sense, they’re barrel vault buildings, almost Quonset hut-like, so if they had no roof, what were they? just two short little walls down two sides?

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