Built in 1910 this Cuyler-Brownsville Historical District site was bought by Dr. Calvin and Virginia Kiah in 1959 and was both a family home and public museum until Virginia’s death in 2001.
Just listed on the 2021 list of Georgia’s most endangered historical places, the Kiah House Museum is unique in its design and for its historical purpose. Originally built in the Prarie style, the building’s most distinctive feature is a two-story window wall, not original to the home but custom designed to showcase the Kiah’s museum collection.
Frequented by the local community, the Kiah House Museum was also visited by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, among other notable guests. This place was not only a home and a museum for the masses but was the culmination of the Kiahs’ unique partnership built on their converging passions of civil rights, education and art.
Growing up in Maryland, Kiah came from a family anchored in the Civil Rights movement, with Virginia’s mother leading the Baltimore NAACP for almost thirty years. It’s said that Virginia’s rejection from the Maryland Institute of Art was the spark that ignited her mother, Lillie Carroll Jackson’s, work in local Civil Rights, which continued into the 1970s. This heritage undoubtedly influenced Kiah, who likely saw art as a form of radical resistance.
More than a collector, Virginia Kiah was an accomplished portrait artist whose works were once exhibited at the United States Capitol building. Although the whereabouts of much of Kiah’s work is unknown, several of her portraits are in the permanent collection of the Savannah College of Art and Design, who awarded her an honorary Doctorate degree and exhibited her pieces in a dedicated show in 2009.
More than an effort to preserve a building, the campaign to save the Kiah House Museum is an effort to preserve the vision and life’s work of Virginia Jackson Kiah, a believer in art for the masses and a Black museum pioneer.
For more information contact: The Georgia Trust