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A house built nearly 110 years ago by an African American brick mason and craftsman and was the home of a prominent African American family active in the local civil rights movement has a new life.
On Friday, this restored structure at 407 Holbrook Street – in the heart of the Holbrook-Ross Historic District – was dedicated as the Williams Community Resource Center.
“We thank you for this honor,” said local attorney Jerry Williams Jr., speaking on behalf of the Williams family. “My parents were great fighters for civil rights and great fighters for education.”
Williams’ grandfather, Robert Allen, built the house in 1910. In 2011, the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority bought the property at an auction. The house was restored through an African American civil rights grant provided by the National Park Service.
The restoration converted the vacant single-family dwelling into a mixed-use structure with two dwelling units on the upper level and a conference room, two offices, and an exhibit hall on the lower level.
Through a partnership with the Danville Historical Society and History United, the exhibit hall will be used to display items of significance to the Williams family and the local civil rights movement.
The Danville chapter of the NAACP will occupy one of the lower level offices.
“We believe it is appropriate that the NAACP offices will be here,” Williams said. “My father did a lot of work for the NAACP.”
Williams’ father, Jerry Lee Williams Sr., served as an attorney for the local chapter of the NAACP.
Greg Hairston, president of the Danville chapter of the NAACP, talked about the historical roots of the neighborhood and the role the Williams family played in the civil rights movement.
“This neighborhood, this street, this house, and this family have played an important role in the NAACP and the civil rights movement,” Hairston said. “It is fitting that we should come back here. Our intention is to be here for years to come and to serve the citizens of Danville.”
The Holbrook-Ross Historic District was the first African-American professional neighborhood in Danville. It was a vibrant and culturally rich neighborhood. Many of the homes were listed in the Green Book, which was a guide that listed safe places for African American travelers during racial segregation.
The center is a project designed to protect and enhance the integrity of a historically significant structure as well as create a location open to the public where the past, present, and future of African American civil rights can be displayed, discussed and advanced.