JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – It was a structure built in 1894. The purpose: to educate African Americans in the Jackson community. Today, the former school tells the story of Jackson’s past.
The Smith Robertson Museum was once known as the West Jackson Colored School, but the facility was bought by a man who would name the school after himself.
The school was a gem in the community that provided jobs for the faculty and a structured learning environment for the students.
“Well, historically, we were a school first. In the 1800s, it was a Smith Robertson School for Colored People. That should tell you historically, just by saying the word ‘colored’ how old we are. But it was started by a former slave named Smith Robertson, who came from Alabama after the Civil War and came here to Jackson and bought the property, bought a facility here and named the school after himself,” said Gwen Harmon, a manager at Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center.
There was pride for the students who attended the school, and they came from different age groups.
“So, their ages in the grade staggered up. You know, we had several rooms that could be used for certain grades, but it was such a pride and joy of the community. It remains there today. You can look at some of the photographs of the faculty then and the staff and the students, and we get people coming back today who remember their grandparents coming to school here or teaching here, and they look at the photographs and that’s the real joy we have of still being open as a museum,” explained Harmon.
The school closed in 1971 and reopened as a museum in 1984. As a museum, the focus is on Jackson history.
“You know, the beauty of the Smith Robertson Museum is that we start with the whole Jackson story. We say, ‘If you want to learn about Jackson’s history, come here first.’ Other museums offer more of a comprehensive outlook on the national scope and the state scope. But this is all Jackson-focused. So, for us, our pride and joy for his exhibit has to be the Medgar Evers gallery because it was curated with the help of Mr. Evers’ family,” said Harmon.
Pre-COVID, about 15,000 people visited the museum a year. They’re slowly getting back to those numbers. If you really want to learn about Jackson history, stop by for a visit and carve out about two hours of your time.
On Friday, February 17, at 6:30 p.m., WJTV 12 News will air a special program honoring Black history, sharing our stories from the Smith Robertson Museum where we’ll tell more stories from around the state.