By John Erb, President and Chair, and Leslie Erb Liedtke, Trustee
Our parents, Fred and Barbara, grew up during the Great Depression and endured World War II on different continents while Fred served in the Pacific. Following the war, during the early years of their marriage, they were saddened and disturbed by what they saw on television, as oppression and violence continued against Black people despite peaceful attempts to challenge inequities.
At that time, the vast majority of Black Americans were still deterred or prevented from registering to vote and exercising their right to vote because of discriminatory laws, threats, and intimidation. Mom and Dad recognized the importance of the civil rights movement and its pivotal historical moments, which led them to support organizations working to end racial discrimination.
During the early 1960s, Dr. Sullivan Jackson and his wife Richie Jean opened the doors of their family’s home in Selma, Alabama to civil rights leaders as a safe place to strategize. Our parents had great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who worked and slept at the Jackson House along with other key allies as they planned the Selma to Montgomery march. From this home, Dr. King frequently spoke with President Lyndon Johnson about the need for legislation to expand and protect Black voting rights and watched the President’s nationally televised address to Congress that introduced the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. and Mrs. Jackson’s daughter, Jawana Jackson, has continued to care for and steward her parents’ home and its artifacts in past decades, but saw a need to preserve its legacy in the face of increasing environmental risks. She identified The Henry Ford as an organization uniquely suited to tackle this ambitious project and share these stories with the world.
This month, the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation is honored to make a special grant to The Henry Ford that will aid efforts to relocate the Jackson House to Greenfield Village. This will be a multi- year project for The Henry Ford and the Foundation is very proud to be an early supporter of it.
We believe this project comes at a time that resonates all too much with what our parents witnessed in the 60s, as our country is experiencing increasing efforts to erase Black history and the contributions that Black Americans, like those of the Jackson family and other civil rights activists, have made. It is critical that these stories and legacies be preserved so that people understand how important it is that the voices of all—especially those who have been historically silenced—are represented.
Chacona Baugh was a colleague of our parents and is a former Erb Family Foundation trustee. Her late husband, Arthur L. Johnson, was a member of the 1948 class of Morehouse College alongside Dr. King and led work in Detroit fighting for equal rights in leadership roles at the Detroit Branch of the NAACP and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
Chacona shared with us how thrilled she was with the Foundation’s decision to provide a lead gift for the Jackson House. “This relocation is a monumental undertaking to preserve vital American history documenting the struggles of the civil rights movement, in which many known and unknown individuals played a role in tearing down inequities, not only in Alabama and the American south, but throughout our country. It warms my heart to know that having the Jackson House along with the thousands of artifacts at Greenfield Village will establish massive educational opportunities to detail the struggles and victories of the civil rights movement that all Americans should know.”
Our parents would be so proud to support these efforts to make a powerful part of civil rights history relevant and accessible by preserving and restoring the Jackson House and uplifting the stories of the Selma Movement to inspire a better and stronger future for this generation and ones to come.