Large Crowd Attends Grand Opening of Jacksonville African American History Museum

By Jeremy Coumbes on June 20, 2022 at 4:49pm

Jacksonville’s newest museum held its grand opening over the weekend. The Jacksonville African American History Museum welcomed its first visitors Saturday afternoon. More than 100 people visited the museum located in the Asa Talcott House at 859 West Grove Street.

Executive Director Art Wilson says the Asa Talcott House is a perfect location for the Jacksonville African American History Museum. The house was purchased by Talcott in 1833 and used extensively as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

A grand opening program was held in the shady side yard of the museum with several community leaders in attendance. Wilson says the museum is still a work in progress as the organization only took possession of the home approximately three months ago. He says overall the grand opening was a big success.

I’m very happy with it. I think Creston Whitaker our guest speaker really got people pumped up with his life stories and what’s happened and let them know. He kind of got them ready and in the mood to come and see what they saw. I really appreciate everyone that showed up. I think we had a pretty good crowd today and I’m happy with the responses that I’m hearing.”

Creston Whitaker served as the keynote speaker during the program. Whitaker lived in Jacksonville from the age of seven, eventually graduating from Jacksonville High School in 1965, leading the basketball team to the state finals that year. Whitaker went on to attend North Texas University and later played as a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints in the NFL.

Speaking for nearly a half an hour Saturday, Whitaker told the group stories of his life from shoveling snow off the courts at Washington Elementary School so he and other neighborhood boys such as Ken Norton could get a game in, to love and loss in family and friends, Jacksonville coaches that inspired him to pursue athletics and what he called a memorable exchange in Jacksonville, Texas when he was pulled over while driving his first new car to Rams training camp.

Whitaker says although he still lives in Texas to this day, Jacksonville holds a special place for him, and he was blessed to be able to come back to help open the museum. “I mean Jacksonville is always going to be home for me, and it’s really truly a pleasure to come back and especially for an event like this that really brings back memories and is an education to me. A lot of those things I didn’t know about. I think that by establishing this museum and being able to be here for the grand opening is truly an honor.”

Whitaker along with his childhood friend Ken Norton are both featured in the museum.

Associate Director Ruth Linear says the grand opening was a great way to take a moment to stop and reflect on all the work that has gone into making the museum possible. “Everything is just beautiful. This has been a fantastic day and a dream come true. I personally have dreamed of this day for many years. I knew it was going to be, but I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when. I am so thankful that we could pull this off and get all of this information compiled. There’s more information to go, but for right now we’ve come a long way.”

Wilson says the museum will be closed for the next few weeks so more work can be accomplished, however, the public will soon have several opportunities with the museum opening for regular attendance on Saturday, July 9th.

We will open that Saturday and Sunday, and then the following Wednesday and Thursday so we will be open four days a week. We are going to be open all the way to the end of September. And then we will be open 24/7 by appointment. So maybe if we’re closed in the winter and somebody wants to come in, all they have to do is give us a call and we’ll come in and open it up.”

The Jacksonville African American Museum is in the process of attaining 501c3 non-profit status. General admission to the museum is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for students, and children five and under free of charge.

For more information, contact Art Wilson at 217-299-6017.