Standing For Freedom: The Making Of The Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum

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History and Geography


Master of Arts

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In early 20th century America, an African American mother in Baltimore had to face a society that opposed her instinct to help her children pursue their goals in life. Lillie Carroll Jackson was a mother who despite the odds, found a way to help her children realize their dreams. Each of her children, Juanita, Marion, Bowen excelled in their chosen area of interest, but it was the blatant societal denial of the desires of her oldest child, Virginia, that sparked the idea of opening a museum that welcomed all people. Few museums were opened by African Americans at the time, but Lillie Jackson was a trailblazer in many regards. She was called a "Freedom Fighter" for her work in reviving and growing the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and working tirelessly to usher in equal rights for our nation (Hughes, LCJM Archives). When it came to the education of her children, Lillie Jackson took whatever steps were necessary to get them closer to their dreams of attending notable colleges. Virginia, her firstborn, had the will and talent to become a fine artist, but the preeminent art school in Maryland, Maryland Institute College of Art, denied her entrance<&mdash;>simply because of the color of her skin. She was also denied access to art museums in the area. Lillie Jackson made a promise to help her open her own museum someday. The museum opened its doors in 1978. In 1998, its doors were closed. What happened? Written from a museum history and development perspective, this thesis seeks to explore the reasons the museum was opened, the reasons it was closed, and the efforts to reinvent and renew its purpose. In using the Lillie Carroll Jackson Museum as a case study, this paper reveals some of the critical issues of opening a small museum. While small museums face many concerns such as staffing, operational funding, and attendance, this study focuses on the issues of collections management; preservation and conservation; interpretive programming and exhibitions. Additionally, this thesis features a brief history of Lillie Carroll Jackson, her family, her work, and the importance of keeping her dreams alive.