Join ADMI in Helping to Prevent the Demolition of the Kiah House Museum Building
One of the first black-founded museums in Savannah, intended to serve as a “museum for the masses” and named one of only ten 2021 Georgia Trust “Places in Peril”.
About the Kiah House
Countless black history sites have been lost to urban re-development and neglect. Let’s save one. 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.
When Virginia Kiah was young she wasn’t allowed to visit many traditional museums or go to art school because she was Black, so she grew up and built her own art career and museum where everyone was welcome. Educated at Columbia University, Virginia was a teacher but she was at heart an artist, a curator and a businesswoman. With the critical support and professional network of her husband, Dr. Calvin Kiah, Virginia created and collected her way to one of the first Black founded museums in Savannah.
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.