City takes Dr. McAllister’s home, hopes to make it museum

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Vicksburg home of the first black woman in the U.S. to receive a doctorate in education could be preserved and turned into an African-American museum if a state grant is awarded.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen accepted at Monday’s regular board meeting the transfer of the home at 1403 Main St., which belonged to the late Dr. Jane McAllister of Vicksburg, from its current owner, Yolande Robbins, in an effort to restore it through a grant program focusing on the preservation of the Civil Rights Era.

“This is a great opportunity for us to take a dinosaur of a building and bring life back to it,” Mayor Paul Winfield said. “I saw it as a great opportunity for us to preserve a significant history of Vicksburg.”

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The City of Vicksburg is applying for up to $210,000 of a $2 million pool of the 2010 Civil Rights Historic Sites grant program offered through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The grant, which requires a 20 percent local match in either cash or in-kind funding, is to be used for renovations, repairs and improvements to sites or properties associated with the Civil Rights era, the late 1950s and 1960s.

“It would be a splendid opportunity if the city can obtain this grant,” said Robbins, who owns the Jacqueline House African-American Museum across the street. “It would be a tremendous boom for our neighborhood. We envisioned this to be a part of the Jacqueline House. We’re bursting at the seams there.”

Once renovated, the McAllister home would be used as an extension of the Jacqueline House, housing African-American artifacts, or as a home for black scholars, Robbins said.

While the city will be the home’s owner in this conveyance agreement, Robbins hopes to manage the renovated facility.

McAllister, who never married and had no children, was born in Vicksburg in 1899 and lived to be 96 years old. She received her doctorate in education from Columbia University.

She taught psychology and education at Jackson State University, Southern University, Grambling State Univeristy, Fisk University, Virginia State University and Dillard University.

The city is using information recorded during the 1960s by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission and archived online by MDHA to support her contributions during the Civil Rights era.

Robbins bought in the late 1990s the two-story white house from the Gardener family, McAllister’s nearest relatives who inherited the home after her death in 1996.

“I bought the house with the expectation of preserving her house in her honor,” said Robbins. “Now is the opportunity.”

The house has been empty since and is in need of repair.

“Major restorations are needed,” Robbins said. “The roof needs repair. The staircase and exquisite rooms need to be renovated.”

The grant application deadline is Friday and officials should know award results by September, city grant writer Marcia Weaver said.

If the city does not receive the grant, the home will be conveyed back at no cost to Robbins, who intends to restore the home no matter the outcome.

“My desire and my objective is to get the home renovated,” she said. “I will seek other grants and funding.”