The museum’s location and the structure that houses it could not be more fitting. The site is situated a short distance from the rail line on which the Scottsboro Boys’ train travelled, along the road authorities took bringing the youths to jail and a few blocks from the courthouse where they first stood trial. Former slaves constructed a church — originally the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church of Scottsboro — on the site in 1878. It’s the oldest standing African American church in Jackson County.
The fate of the initial structure is unknown, but the church was rebuilt in 1904. Steps to the first church remain in the embankment between the Museum and West Willow Street. A major renovation, including construction of the building’s west wing, occurred in 1948. The church was remodeled again in 1984. Brick veneer was added to the structure’s wooden exterior and walls were plastered during that project.
African Americans worshipped at Joyce Chapel United Methodist Church until 2009, when the congregation dwindled and the United Methodist Association decided to put the building on the market. Washington says she knew the instant she stepped through the doors in December 2009 the church was the “perfect” spot for a museum commemorating the Scottsboro Boys and their historic cases. “It just felt right,” she recalls. The Scottsboro Multicultural Foundation acquired the two-acre property and church in April 2010 with the help of donations from the Jackson County Legislative Delegation and an anonymous gift made through the Calvert Foundation. Because the United Methodist Association allowed the Foundation to use the facility before the purchase was finalized, the museum opened in February 2010.
Clearing of underbrush behind the church in spring 2010 revealed a wealth of pottery, china and glass bottles buried just below the surface. The items include Asian porcelain dating to the 18th century. African Americans lived in shotgun houses that once occupied land behind the church. An archeological dig and research will be conducted to learn more about the origins of these artifacts, several of which are displayed in the museum.
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