Civil rights museum may open again Morgan State may buy the Bolton Hill site

February 05, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

The long-shuttered Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum, former home of one of Baltimore's earliest civil rights leaders, may open its doors to visitors again -- if a prospective buyer can work out final details.

Proposed purchase plans by Morgan State University -- about four years in the making -- could ensure the future of the stately but in disrepair three-story, Victorian rowhouse at 1320 Eutaw Place in Bolton Hill.

The move also would help preserve a rare monument to Baltimore's African-American struggle for justice and equality, state and museum officials say.

"There's value in retaining it as a museum," said Dr. Ronald Sharps, executive director of the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture. "It would make a good research facility" for Morgan State students and outside researchers.

A recent tour of the museum conducted by former City Council member Michael Mitchell, one of the late Mrs. Jackson's grandsons, revealed that the building is in need of repairs.

The second-floor rear wall and part of the ceiling, and the back first-floor room's rear wall recently suffered water damage when a frozen water pipe burst. That happened after utilities to the house were turned off to save money, Mr. Mitchell said.

Otherwise, the museum, which is owned by a Mitchell family corporation, looks much as it did when it closed seven years ago because of financial troubles. Mrs. Jackson's lacy, white ankle-length dress, which she wore upon graduation from Baltimore's Colored High and Training School as a teacher in 1908, is still protected in a glass display case. Nearby, similar cases hold memorabilia, including photographs of Mrs. Jackson and others with Eleanor Roosevelt. Plaques, trophies, newspaper clippings and family pictures still cover some walls.

The mother of four children, Mrs. Jackson was the founder of the influential Jackson-Mitchell clan. One daughter, Juanita Jackson Mitchell, was a prominent lawyer and activist and wife of Clarence Mitchell Jr., the chief National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lobbyist on Capitol Hill for years; both are now deceased. A second-floor room in the museum is dedicated to Clarence Mitchell Jr.'s legislative achievements.

Mrs. Jackson was instrumental in reviving the local NAACP and in a series of NAACP-sponsored lawsuits, including those that resulted in the University of Maryland law school enrolling African-Americans and the desegregation of municipal swimming pools and Sandy Point State Park beach.

About $300,000 in state loans and grants are to be provided to help Morgan State purchase, renovate and operate the museum for the first year, says Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who spearheaded legislative efforts to get state funding for the museum. One-third of that amount must be matched by private donations, and the museum's board of directors would be responsible for raising museum operating funds in succeeding years, Mr. Rawlings said.

Settlement of the purchase is tentatively scheduled for late March, with the museum reopening a year from now, said Anthony Carey, vice chairman of the museum's board.

Willie Adams and Willie Runyon, local businessmen with strong political ties, hold the mortgage on the museum and would receive the bulk of the sale price. The museum was the dream of Lillie Carroll Jackson, who died at 86 in 1975, living in the house the last 22 years of her life. She willed the house -- filled with antiques and memorabilia -- to her oldest daughter, Virginia Jackson Kiah. She directed Mrs. Kiah to create a museum dedicated to "freedom fighters, human beings of all races and creeds who gave of themselves and who made a difference."

The museum was open from 1978 to 1989, when it closed because of fund-raising problems.

The board decided that an association with Morgan State, a historically black public institution, would be key to giving the museum stability and elevating its profile, helping it raise funds.

Mr. Carey, a partner with the Venable, Baetjer and Howard law firm, joined the museum's board in 1983, when a room in the museum was dedicated to his grandmother, Margaret Carey, a Quaker minister who worked with Mrs. Jackson on social-justice matters.

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