Doors open at Grant Presidential Library, Lincoln collection

Ulysses S. Grant Association President and retired Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Frank Williams speaks at the grand opening of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana Thursday. The exhibits and renovation were completed at a cost of $10 million at the MSU Mitchell Memorial Library. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

Mississippi State University joined the ranks of six colleges and universities with presidential libraries Thursday, when the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library officially opened its doors.

The $10 million facility is located on the fourth floor of the Mitchell Memorial Library and also includes the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, the largest known private collection of Abraham Lincoln artifacts and literature. The opening drew an unexpectedly large crowd and included several notable guests and speakers.

Speakers included MSU President Mark Keenum, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board President C.D. Smith Jr., Gov. Phil Bryant, Rep. Gregg Harper, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, Ulysses S. Grant Association President Frank Williams, Ulysses S. Grant Association Executive Director and Managing Editor John F. Marszalek and Dean of MSU Libraries Frances N. Coleman.

“It was Grant’s success here in Mississippi that earned him the special gratitude and complements of President Lincoln and propelled him into a much larger, grander role in leading the army during the early war, and afterward with his celebrity, prepared him into being the president of the United States,” Keenum said. “It is most appropriate and fitting for his library to be located in the great state of Mississippi.”

Bryant discussed Grant’s humble beginnings in Ohio, selling firewood to support himself, and his rise to becoming the North’s leading general in the Civil War.

He also recalled his first trip to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“I saw those photographs of the old soldiers in the early 1900s, gray and old with walking canes reaching across the picket fence one to another, Confederate and Union embracing each other with kindness that can only be shared by those who had suffered the crucible of war,” Bryant said. “They fought for very different causes, but they laid down their arms, and as President Lincoln said ‘came to bind up the wounds of this great nation.”’

Bryant said he hoped the library could serve to help heal wounds remaining from the war.

“This exhibit here today of President Lincoln and President Grant will go so far along the road of reconciliation so that the rest of the world might look to Starkville, Mississippi as the place that it continues, that we honor these two great presidents for their courage, for their determination, for the love of this great nation” Bryant said.

Williams, a former chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court explained how the library and his Lincoln collection, which has been valued at $3 million, came to MSU.

“In the nine years of custody of the Grant association treasures and papers, Virginia and I knew this was the right place and the right time.” Williams said. “I know that the legacy that you have here with the help of so many people, will always be available for our citizens.”

He also gave his hopes on what the library would do for the community and the university.

"In 1862, as part of President Lincoln’s annual message to Congress, he admonished the American people with ‘it is not that we can imagine better, but can we all do better,’ and I am pleased to say to all of you, and I think you will agree, that with these galleries and the collections that support them and the wonderful staff that serve and the people who use them, we have in a significant way, done better,” Williams said.