A once in a lifetime opportunity awaits you inside the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center. Located a stone's throw from the State Capitol building, it's just within walking distance of principal businesses and attractions in downtown Jackson. Through art, artifacts, and photography, the work, lifestyle, and artistic contributions of African Americans are celebrated, evoking a greater understanding of the African-American experience in the Deep South.
The museum is housed in the former Smith Robertson School, the first public school built for African Americans in Jackson. The school opened in 1894 and served the African-American community until 1971. The original building was a two-story wood structure that burned in 1909. A brick structure was erected by a local African-American contractor to replace the school that same year. In 1929, the prominent architectural firm Hull and Mulvaney enlarged the building and enhanced it with its Art Deco facade. The school was named for Mr. Smith Robertson, who was born a slave in Fayette, Alabama, in 1847. After the Civil War, he migrated to Jackson where he operated a successful barbering business. He was also in local politics and became the first African-American Alderman in the City of Jackson.
One of the most notable graduates of Smith Robertson School is internationally known writer and 1925 graduate Richard Wright. Though he spent only a few years of his life in Mississippi, those years would play a key role in his two most important works: Native Son, a novel, and his autobiography, Black Boy.
The school closed in 1971 because of integration and was abandoned. Concerned citizens within the community wanted to stop the building from being torn down. Dr. Jessie Mosley and Dr. Alferdteen Harrison organized a petition to save the school. The museum opened in 1984. Dr. Jessie Mosley was the museum's first director and was eventually named "Director Emeritus."
Dr. Jessie B. Mosley
The Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center is dedicated to increasing public understanding and awareness of the historical experience and cultural expressions of people of African descent. Artifacts highlight the contributions of black Mississippians through struggle and achievement, as seen in exhibits such as From Slavery to America, 1670-1864 and in the Hall of Fame, which includes personalities from the state who are pioneers in their respective positions.
A distinguished pioneer, Robert Clark who was elected in 1967, was the first African-American elected to serve in the Mississippi Legislature since 1894. Unita Blackwell was the first African-American woman elected as mayor of a city in the State of Mississippi. Reuben Anderson became the first African American to serve on the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Honorable Harvey Johnson, Jr. was elected in 1997 as the first African-American Mayor of Jackson which is the state's capital and largest city.
The museum also houses on a permanent basis the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Services organized exhibition, Field to Factory: The Afro-American Migration, 1915-1940. This exhibition interprets African- Americans moving in great numbers from the rural South to the urban North. The larger version of this exhibition is housed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
Other permanent exhibitions include: The History of Smith Robertson School, works from the Visual Collection, works from the Master Collection, Treasures of Africa, HistoricFarish Street District (1910-1970), African-American Lifestyle in Mississippi, Mississippi Negro Scholars, Mississippi Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Mississippi African-American Folk Art, Civil Rights Gallery (Jackson, Mississippi, Movement), and the Mississippi Black Doctors Gallery.