The Oakes African American Cultural Center
Circa 1866, 1930
Yazoo City, Mississippi (Yazoo County)
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, the Oakes House was home to the Mary and John Oakes family, one of the most prominent African American families in Yazoo County. The family, originally from South Carolina, moved to Yazoo City in 1853, after John Oakes bought the freedom of Mary and her two children. The Oakes African American Cultural Center, commonly known as the “Oakes House,” began as a one-room structure that was on the lot when John Oakes purchased the property in 1866. John found work as a contractor while Mary operated a restaurant they owned on Main Street. In 1884, their son, A.J., founded Oakes Academy, a private school for blacks, and served as principal for the next 16 years. He resigned in 1900 to work full-time for the Oakes Lumber Company and his construction company, which helped rebuild Yazoo City after a 1904 fire destroyed much of the town. The fire did not reach his company, nor did it climb the hill to the Oakes House, thus allowing it to remain in its original state. By 1930, the one-room structure had grown to a two-story home with Colonial Revival detailing, including a wrap-around two-story gallery supported by Tuscan columns.
2015 Update – In Progress
The Oakes House has been a museum that not only tells the history of the Oakes family, but it also tells of the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in Yazoo County and the State of Mississippi. In the 1990’s, an intense project helped restore the leaded-glass entrance doors, original mantels, chimneys, walls, and stairs.
Over the years, the house deteriorated due to lack of funds for maintenance and museum operations. Funding from the Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program helped to complete foundation work in 2015, but additional funding is needed to complete the restoration.