In Mississippi, we like to remind visitors that they can experience a diverse cultural landscape that stretches from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement. Let’s learn about an attraction that focuses on the African American experience throughout the American South.
Rated among the top 15 things to see and do in Jackson by Lonely Planet readers, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center -- located in the heart of the city -- offers an unguarded look at the lives of African Americans from the middle passage to the present. The museum is housed in what was Mississippi's first public school for African American students. Noted author Richard Wright, best known for his works “Native Son” and “Black Boy,” graduated from Smith Robertson in 1925.
The school opened in 1894 and was named for Smith Robertson, a slave from Fayette, Alabama. Robertson, who was born in 1847, moved to Jackson after the Civil War. He became a barber and operated a very successful barber shop. Active in politics, he became the first African-American alderman for the city.
The original wood structure that housed the school burned in 1909 and was immediately replaced with the brick structure visitors can see today. The building was enlarged in 1929 and remained a school until it closed due to integration in 1971. Virtually abandoned and threatened with demolition, citizens, most notably Dr. Jessie Mosley and Dr. Alfredteen Harrison, rallied to save the building. Dr. Mosley became the museum’s first director when it opened in 1984.
Two new exhibits opened at Smith Robertson this year. “From Africa to Mississippi” features a partial replica of a slave ship and offers a host of historical data about life in Africa through the horrors of the middle passage and ultimately to the auction block. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, another very special exhibit features photographs, voice recordings and displays that outline both Evers’ personal and professional lives.
Among the museum’s permanent exhibits are “Field to Factory: The Afro-American Migration, 1915-1940,” the Civil Rights Gallery, the Mississippi Black Doctors Gallery and more.
The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center is open Monday-Friday from 9-5 and Saturday from 10-1. Call 601.960.1457 for admission costs and other details.