The Henry Ford acquires and will preserve Jackson House, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches in 1965

Published 3:45 pm Monday, April 17, 2023

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The Henry Ford Acquires and will Preserve Selma, Alabama Home Where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Planned the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches in 1965

Dearborn, MI—(April 17, 2023)—The Henry Ford, a 250-acre cultural destination and National Historic Landmark in Dearborn, Michigan acquired and will preserve the Selma, Alabama home of Dr. and Mrs. Sullivan Jackson. The historic home, known as the Jackson House, served as a safe haven where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others worked, collaborated, strategized and planned the Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965. The marches served as protests against the systemic racist policies within the south and raised awareness of the struggles Black voters faced.

It was in the Jackson House on March 15, 1965, when Dr. King watched President Johnson’s famous “We Shall Overcome” speech. The speech announced the bill to be sent to Congress, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote, which would later become the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The house and its entire contents are remarkably preserved: the dining room with a maple table around which civil rights leaders, members of Congress and two Nobel Peace Prize winners broke bread and shared dreams; the upholstered armchair where Dr. King sat as he watched President Johnson’s historic address; and the kitchen where Mrs. Jackson tirelessly cooked for her frequent guests.

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Jawana Jackson, the only child of Dr. and Mrs. Jackson, and the sole owner of the Jackson House, has dedicated her life to protecting and preserving the Jackson House and elevating the history it holds. With that in mind, Jackson contacted The Henry Ford and requested the Jackson House be permanently relocated, installed, interpreted and presented in The Henry Ford’s outdoor museum, Greenfield Village. After more than a year of due diligence, The Henry Ford and Ms. Jawana Jackson reached an agreement for acquisition.

In an exclusive interview with The Selma Times-Journal, Jackson explained how she came to the decision to partner with The Henry Ford, and what her vision is for the futre of the home, which has housed six generations of her family.

“I have been searching for a permanent solution for the Jackson museum for quite some time,” Jackson said. “As the sold owner and caretaker of a remarkable piece of my family’s history, I felt it’s time to take care of this house for future generations. So I started searching for that solution a couple of years ago, and The Henry Ford has been on my list quite some time.

Jackson said her collaboration with The Henry Ford on this project was predestined as the museums were both familiar with each other.

“The Henry Ford had been suggested to me a couple of years ago, and some inquires had been sent to them, so by the time we came together, I think the universe opened up because [The Henry Ford] board knew about the Jackson Museum and the Jackson Museum knew about the Henry Ford. In many ways it was meant to be,” Jackson said.

Throughout the process, Jackson’s main concern and wish was to make absolutely certain the house that was so instrumental as a meeting and gathering place in Selma for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. be preserved just as it had been these many decades by first her parents, and then her.

“The Henry Ford, unlike any other historical preservation organization in this country, is the premier organization that does their due diligence,” Jackson said. “I knew from the very beginning that every plank, every nail, all the artwork would be carefully preserved throughout this process. I know the house and its contents will be taken care of from the beginning, through the moving process, and when the house is rebuilt where the public can once again go into the Jackson house and see it.”

Jackson said preservation of this important part of Selma and America’s history was her guiding principal, and she said “no monetary value was put on this decision.” She will retain the property once the house is moved, and she plans on preserving the land and erecting a monument that will depict the history of her family and all the familes that lived in the home.

“History is mobile. Henry Ford created Greenfield Village to highlight American history and I think the Jackson Museum highlights American history,” Jackson said. “It will be in the company of some other homes to highlight what we hold dear as Americans. The home being there will allow millions to see that story, to touch and feel that story, and I am convinced that story can be told on any soil, not just in Selma. I also feel it will give that story, the Alabama story, the Selma story, a much wider view. I am convinced this house deserves to be in Greenfield Village, because in the end it is part of America’s story.”

Jackson said she finds comfort and peace in her decision to allow The Henry Ford to move her childhood home to Michigan, something she thinks her mother and father would be proud to see.

“I had discussions with the spirits of both of my parents throughout this process, and from the beginning until now it was always a sense of peace, that they were always encouraging me to do this,” Jackson said. “When I realized I had their support, spiritually, the final decision was made very early on. I know that they’re happy.”

Greenfield Village is home to more than 80 historic structures that tell stories of great change. They include the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, the laboratory where Thomas Edison perfected the light bulb and the home and workshop where Orville and Wilbur Wright invented their first airplane. The Henry Ford’s overall collection is comprised of 26 million artifacts including the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and the actual bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.

With more than 1.5 million visitors annually, including hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, The Henry Ford will raise the profile of the Jackson House to a national and global level. In addition to hosting millions of people on site, The Henry Ford can reach millions more through its extensive digital outreach and educational programming, its website and social media channels, and its media publishing resources with worldwide reach.

“Maintaining, sustaining and programming historic buildings is what we do best,” said Patricia Mooradian, President and CEO of The Henry Ford. “We believe these authentic structures evoke powerful emotions and give insight into pivotal events that unfolded in American history. The Henry Ford has spent nearly 95 years captivating audiences from around the globe with stories of American innovation, ingenuity and resourcefulness. Thanks to this collaboration with Jawana Jackson, we will be able to dedicate our expertise and resources to preserving and sharing the Jackson House and its important place in American history for generations.”

The Honorable James Perkins, Jr., Mayor of the City of Selma, reinforced the need to preserve this home and its story.

“I celebrate the Jackson family’s contribution to the 1960s Voting Rights Movement and express appreciation to The Henry Ford for relocating this valuable asset to historic Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan,” said Mayor Perkins. “My hope is that the Jackson family, The Henry Ford, the city of Selma and the nation, immensely benefit from this powerful preservation initiative.”
Selma City Councilmember Jannie Thomas supports the decision.

“Jawana and I have known each other since childhood,” Councilmember Thomas said.  “We grew up in the same neighborhood. When Jawana confided in me about plans to move the historic Jackson House to The Henry Ford, I supported her decision to preserve her home and its place in civil rights history.  As the councilperson who represents the district of the historic Jackson House, I, along with Selma City Council president Billy Young, look forward to beginning a dialogue with The Henry Ford.  We look forward to this exciting new chapter for the Jackson House.”

Moving the Jackson House from Selma to Greenfield Village will be a multi-year effort for The Henry Ford. Once the contents are removed and the structure is taken apart and loaded onto trailers, it will make the 860-mile move to Dearborn, Michigan. Placing the house in Greenfield Village will require preparing a site, laying a new foundation, positioning and reassembling the house, replacing the roof, repairing floors and walls, connecting electrical and plumbing systems, installing central heating and air-conditioning, and adding fire protection and security systems.

“The Henry Ford has the expertise necessary to physically preserve the Jackson House and its artifacts and to share its powerful story,” Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, said. “In my view, the Jackson House will be in excellent hands and will receive all of the care and attention this historically significant structure deserves.”

Once the home is relocated to its new permanent residence, The Henry Ford vows to create innovative programming, bringing this structure to life for in-person visitors and online learners around the world.

“It is imperative that places of historic importance marking the contributions of African Americans be restored and preserved,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. “The Jackson House represents one such significant property, a structure steeped in history and culture.  The Henry Ford’s collaboration with Ms. Jawana Jackson represents a critical step in ensuring that this iconic American property is preserved and will be visited by millions of visitors.”

Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, Ph.D., is a renowned historian who serves as a Director and Distinguished Professor at Cooperstown Graduate Program/SUNY Oneonta and author of Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. She says the Jackson House is an important dwelling that brings a new dimension to our understanding of the role that African Americans played in defeating Jim Crow by defying segregated buses and train cars with their automobiles and sharing their homes when hotels and restaurants kept black people out.

“Not every historic building can be preserved in its original location and for this reason, so many important places are forever lost. Not so for the Jackson House that will find new life and meaning at The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village,” Sorin said. “The Jacksons are unsung heroes. Their generosity and courage show us how we, as ordinary Americans, can stand up against injustice and for the beloved community. The Henry Ford has taken a leadership role in broadening the history that museums can tell and enabling us all to envision a shared legacy that makes us stronger as a democratic nation of many diverse people.”

Neil Barclay, President of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, agreed.

“The Henry Ford has been an exceptional steward of artifacts that tell our nation’s stories of innovation, ingenuity and resourcefulness,” Barclay said. “Its unparalleled collections documenting the American experience preserve our shared history and inspire each of us to help create a better future. With its recent acquisition of the Jackson House, The Henry Ford will be able to present the story of its prominent role in the early days of the modern American civil rights movement and the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to millions of visitors.”