The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center documents the history and achievements of African Americans in Mississippi and sponsors workshops and festivals. The museum building, adjacent to the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, is the site of the city’s first public elementary school for African Americans, built in 1894. In 1903 the school was named for Smith Robertson, Jackson’s first African American alderman. The school counts among its graduates writer Richard Wright. The original two-story wooden building burned, and the school was rebuilt in brick in 1909. In 1929 a Jackson architectural firm, Hull and Mulvaney, remodeled the building in the Art Deco style. The school closed its doors in 1971.
Not wanting to lose the historic building, Jessie B. Mosley and Alferdteen Harrison led the community effort that founded the Mississippi Association for the Preservation of Smith Robertson School, which helped establish the museum in 1984 with Mosley as the first director.
Staff and volunteers conduct tours of the permanent exhibitions, which include historical documents and works by artists who are native Mississippians or who work in the state. In addition, the museum offers exhibits on such topics as “Treasures of Africa,” the African American lifestyle, historically black colleges and universities. black doctors, and civil rights. The Mississippi African American Folk Art collection features thirty-five quilts donated by the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and the Smith Robertson Room documents the original school’s history. Additional exhibits highlight the history of Farish Street, the predominantly African American area of downtown Jackson; Mississippi’s slave community; and the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities between 1915 and 1940. The Hall of Fame honors the state’s groundbreaking African American politicians. The museum also hosts traveling and temporary exhibitions focusing on national as well as Mississippi topics and artists.
- City of Jackson, Mississippi, Smith Robertson Museum website, www.jacksonms.gov/visitors/museums/smithrobertson
- Turry Miguel Flucker, Brown Quarterly (Winter 1998)