Jackson Community House
MontgomeryView all Montgomery attractions
Gleaming in pristine glory from a completed exterior restoration, the circa 1853 edifice at 409 South Union Street beckons all to a more intimate acquaintance with Montgomery's past. Enshrined on city, state, and national historic registries, the Jackson Community House is a unique cultural resource with white and black principals, thus reflecting the locale's past and present population concentrations. As a consequence, however, of the region's historic segregation, the two groups held forth from the home sequentially, rather than together. During its first life (1853-1943), whites occupied the house. Alabama native Jefferson Franklin Jackson, US. Attorney for northern and middle Alabama built the structure for genteel southern living. Its interior conformed to the dogtrot pattern: wide central halls led to rooms on both sides. The first floor encapsulated dramatic effect, with huge ceilings, impressive chandeliers, crown molding, the hint of an arch around large door frames, mantled fireplaces, oversized pocket doors between the main parlor and living room, and a decorative curved arch separating the front and rear halls. Off the front hall, French doors led into the front parlors. Moreover, eight sets of French doors with louvered shutters topped by glass panes opened onto an L-shaped verandah extending around the front and northern exteriors. Undoubtedly, Jefferson Jackson, his wife, and children, enjoyed entertaining on warm evenings in well-appointed first floor rooms when breezes through the numerous exterior doors air-­conditioned the space. During Jackson's nine years in his hilltop abode, he fraternized with state governors and other dignitaries on a variety of occasions, from highbrow galas to desperate political meetings. Upon his death, the property passed to his widow, Eleanor Clark Jackson. After several years, she married her husband's former law partner, Thomas H. Watts, an Alabama Civil War governor, and former Confederate cabinet member. The family retained the homestead for decades, constructing a rear addition in 1900, but leaving the original rectangular structure remarkably intact. By the time, Montgomery Bus Boycotters sent empty buses past the old Jackson place in 1955, it had settled into a second life. In 1943 under President Zenobia Johnson, the Montgomery City Federation of Colored Women's Clubs purchased the residence for its 25 adult clubs and 15 youth c1ubs--and in the process redefined who came in through the front door. While outwardly wearing a faded and worn facade, the Jackson House strutted a different attitude and utility. Its new moniker, the Community House, suggested a simple theme, but to its' owners grappling everyday with the exigencies of "separate-but-equal' citizenship, the name captured the enormity of work to be done behind the color line: nation building, one brick at a time. The women of the Montgomery Federation had organized in 1939, electing Hattie Alexander as their leader. They were associated with a series of turn-of-the-century groups nested in one another like Russian dolls, all promoting positive citizenship on both race and gender fronts, and doing so without castigating black men, These organizations were the 1896 National Association, Colored Women's Clubs, the 1899 Alabama Association of Colored Women's Clubs, and local clubs, notably "The Ten's" (1888) and the Anna M. Duncan Club (1897). Together, these women and federated sister groups formed an invaluable safety net for black women and the race, through the use of the Community House. It functioned as a Girl Scout headquarters, a popular and wholesome teenage rendezvous, an adult social and civic center, and beginning in December 1948, the city's first public library open to African Americans. Also, the building hosted meetings of the Women's Political Council. (which called into being the Montgomery Bus Boycott); a "Stork's Nest" for needy mothers; a Head Start kindergarten; voter registration; youth leadership training; tutorial and counseling programs for at -risk youth; family reunions, receptions, and weddings Today, as workmen tackle the restoration, the Jackson-Community House interior and landscape artists work their magic on the grounds, the City Federation's Jackson-Community House Project, chaired by Sangernetta Gilbert Bush, invites all to join the effort to preserve this important antebellum landmark. Through community support, for example, many will sense by gone times while sitting in its spacious rooms or lingering on its ample green. The house is a legacy to the capital city's present and future. to blacks and whites together, and not sequentially, as in the segregated past. As Montgomery becomes increasingly a racially unified city, hopefully the Jackson-Community House will and thus enter a third life, one with an ever-bright future.
For more information visit:
409 S. Union St.
Montgomery, AL 36104
- Open by appt.; visit website for tour schedule
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