Pleasant Reed was born a slave to Charlotte and Benjamin Reed in 1854 on a Perry County plantation owned by John B. Reed. After emancipation, members of the Reed family began to leave Perry County and settle in Biloxi, and in 1869 Pleasant Reed joined them.
On 23 January 1884 Reed married Georgia Anna Harris, a Louisiana native who spoke both English and a French Creole dialect and could read and write. Pleasant Reed worked as a carpenter and made fishnets that the family sold to Gulf Coast fishermen. The couple had five children: Manuel, Victoria, Percy, Theresa, and Paul. In May 1887 Reed purchased land on Elmer Street in Biloxi from Jacob Elmer and began to construct a house on the site. It is one of the first documented houses built and owned outright by a freed slave in Biloxi.
Now known as the Pleasant Reed House, the structure was an altered side-hall, camelback Creole cottage with three rooms running off of the side hall. This design was a well-established regional form that allowed for both cross-ventilation and privacy in a small space. The interior of the house was finished with both vertical bead board and whitewashed walls. Reed later added an attached kitchen, a garçonnière (a camelback room over the kitchen that served as a boy’s bedroom), and a variety of decorative details, including a spindle frieze running across the front porch as well as factory-made furniture and an icebox. Such luxuries indicated the family’s increasing financial stability, and by 1908 the Reeds were one of Biloxi’s most prosperous African American families.
Georgia Reed died in 1933, while Pleasant Reed died three years later. Their daughter, Therese Reed, lived in the house until the 1970s, by which time it had fallen into disrepair. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority took ownership of the house in 1978 and worked to have it restored. In 2000 the sorority donated the house to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, which moved the structure from Elmer Street to the museum campus on Beach Boulevard/Highway 90 to increase visibility and access. The Reed House was restored to its ca. 1910 appearance and opened as a museum in May 2003.
On 29 August 2005 Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Pleasant Reed House as well as most of its collection of furniture and interior decorations. However, the extensive archives related to the house, including tax records, contracts, and receipts and bills, were saved and remain in the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art collection. In 2008 the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art completed construction of the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center, a replica of the house utilized to further the “cultural and educational” importance of the Reed legacy.
- The Buildings of Biloxi: An Architectural Survey (2000)
- John Hopkins and Marsha, No Two Alike (2003)
- Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art website, www.georgeohr.org
- Beth L. Savage and Carol D. Shull, eds., African American Historic Places (1994)