Vicksburg Seeks to Turn Pioneer Black Education Scholar’s Home Into Museum

VICKSBURG, Miss. — The Vicksburg, Miss., home of the first Black woman in the United States to receive a doctorate in education could be preserved and turned into an African-American museum if a state grant is awarded.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday accepted transfer of the home, which belonged to the late Dr. Jane McAllister, 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,” says mayor Paul Winfield. “I saw it as a great opportunity for us to preserve a significant history of Vicksburg.”

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.

“It would be a splendid opportunity if the city can obtain this grant,” says Robbins, who owns the Jacqueline House African-American Museum across the street. “It would be a tremendous boon 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 says.

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 died in 1996.

McAllister received a doctorate in education from Teachers College at Columbia in New York in 1929.

In 1943, Professor Mable Carney wrote in Advanced School Digest: “The real history of American Negro education on the advanced level in Teachers College began with the pioneer effort of Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister in 1929.”

Carney wrote that McAllister, upon completion of her thesis, “became not only the first colored candidate ever to receive the doctor’s degree from this institution, but the first colored candidate throughout the world.”

McAllister earlier received a degree from Talladega College in Alabama and earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Michigan.

She also taught at education courses at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and worked for the Louisiana Department of Education, supervising the construction and operation of rural schools for Black students.

After Columbia, McAllister taught at Miner Teachers College in Washington, D.C., for more than 20 years. She left in 1951 to return to Mississippi.

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

“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 says. “The roof needs repair. The staircase and exquisite rooms need to be renovated.”

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

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 says. “I will seek other grants and funding.”