SCHF must stand on its own now

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 2, 2000

Ted Smith describes the Cobb House at the Southern Cultural Heritage Complex, formerly the campus of St. Francis Xavier Academy. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

After six years of city support, including $1 million for the deed to a city block of historic Vicksburg buildings, starting Sunday the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation will sink or swim on its own merits.

And that’s just the way director Ted Smith wants it.

“I think this is a new beginning for us,” he said.

The new fiscal year, which began Sunday, marks the end of a two-year agreement between the city and the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, and the last city tax dollars into the center’s coffers.

It also marks the end of city influence over the foundation’s operations, which Smith is quick to point out may make the complex more attractive to private foundations and grants.

“A good number of private foundations won’t even consider funding an organization that is supported by the city,” he said.

But the step from a guaranteed six-figure funding source into the uncertain world of private financing will be anything but easy, Smith acknowledges.

“The challenge is obviously there,” he said. “But we’ve got outstanding support in this community; the people I talk to are excited about our organization and excited about our future.”

Like many young men in the South, Smith grew up fascinated by the Civil War. As he grew older, that love came to encompass all things in, of and about the South.

“The South to me is about a sense of place,” he said. “The South has a distinct regional identity, where other places have lost that identity.”

Within a broad definition of culture that includes the people, places, history, arts and even the food that make Vicksburg and the South unique, the foundation is dedicated to preserving and interpreting that culture.

“I think it’s important to reflect on where we’ve been as a region, to explore and celebrate that,” Smith said. “Some things you cannot celebrate, and you need to look at those with a candid eye as well.”

The Southern Cultural Heritage Complex, where where the foundation is housed, has quite a history of its own dating to 1860.

That was the year when a group of nuns from Baltimore moved into the Cobb House on Crawford Street to offer Christian education in the raucous river port of Vicksburg.

Their school’s development was interrupted by the necessity of caring for the sick and wounded during the Civil War and a subsequent yellow fever epidemic.

But the Sisters of Mercy and their school, St. Francis Xavier Academy, continued to grow and in 1868, the nuns built a four-story convent. Over the next century, a gymnasium, a school building and an auditorium were added, and in 1968, St. Francis changed from a girls’ school to a coeducational elementary school.

The nuns nearly 10 years ago moved to the order’s convent and McAuley Home, both near ParkView Regional Medical Center, and last year most of the aging sisters moved to a Catholic skilled-care nursing facility in New Orleans.

St. Francis Elementary, which along with St. Aloysius High School is run by the Diocese of Jackson, moved to a new building on Clay Street in 1991.