African American Culture Society looking for home to preserve, celebrate Golden Triangle history

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The city’s African American Culture Society has been celebrating the accomplishments of African Americans since 1984 and is now looking for a home.

Organization members Gail Pellum, Phyllis Baker and Sandra Castille hope to find a location where they can preserve the African American history and culture of the Golden Triangle and are eying the J.B. Matthews Community Center, 740 W. Rev. Dr. Ransom Howard St.

The building has its own historical significance as it once served as the Port Arthur Public Library-Historic West Side Branch, constructed in May 1955, according to information from the organization.

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The group approached the Port Arthur City Council Tuesday with the idea for the African American Historical and Cultural Center, asking the council for guidance on the next step in utilizing the city-owned property.

Organization and plans

The African American Culture Society was formed in 1984 and incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 1994. It’s described as a vision of Gail Pellum.

The group is known for its Juneteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations in Port Arthur, as well as other events nationally celebrated.

“But we need a place to grow,” Baker said.

But, she said, this is 2024 and many of the things they’ve worked on have been added to the calendar, including the addition of Port Markers celebrating the survival of their ancestors as they crossed the Middle Passage to the local shores.

The Center will be an inspiration for people, especially young people as they would get to display the works they have done over the years and give them an appreciation of the struggle African Americans have been through who live here, organizer said.

“It’s the only historical place we have right now, and the young people don’t know anything about it,” Baker said.

“But those of us who have had those experiences, we hunger for it. We hunger for the pride that we have developed over the years for our African American citizens and how they came from the legacy that they have passed on to us. We don’t know enough about it and pretty soon the people in our age group will be gone.”

Pellum said there is a very rich history on the West Side, but children today do not know “that we all came from the West Side.”

Mayor Thurman Bartie said there are a number of issues that need to be considered regarding the Matthews building being used as an African American Historical and Cultural Center.

They include feasibility on if they project could happen, how it can happen, sustainability and if the plan progressed, the need for a curator.

Bartie thinks they started something great but it won’t happen over night, it’s a process.

The group is working on a blueprint and a budget and would like to come back to the council in 60 days to provide additional information.

Councilwoman Tiffany Hamilton suggested the group think of using the property as shared space, as there are other organizations that do not have a specific building, such as the NAACP.

No action was taken at the meeting, as the agenda item was listed as a presentation.