Public invited to share information at event Dec. 19
By Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D.
Friends of the Scott Ford Midwife Houses have set Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. as “A Day of Sharing” at the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center located at 528 Bloom St. in Jackson.
The public is invited to attend and share their stories, artifacts and photographs in the Scott Ford Museum and Interpretive Center to be established at 136 and 138 Cohea St. The collection will focus on midwifery – trusted women assisting young mothers with their birthing process.
“A Day of Sharing” is hosted and sponsored in collaboration with Jackson State University’s Margaret Walker Center, the Mississippi Humanities Council and Smith Robertson Museum. Included among program presenters will be Jackie Dace, project manager for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum set to open in 2017; Dr. Helen Barnes, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist; Dr. Robert Smith, health care advocate and founder/director of the Central Mississippi Health Services Center; Dr. Ricco Chapman, chairman of the JSU History Department; Angela Stewart, the Margaret Walker Center’s archivist and Dr. Robert Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center.
Some may question why “A Day of Sharing” is essential to the Jackson community. According to president and historian of the Scott Ford House Board, Dr. Alferdteen Harrison, “Midwifery has a tradition that stretches back to the beginning of civilization and particularly among the black community, arrived with the initial importation of Africans to American soil.”
“Four midwives delivered four of my 10 children in my home in Midtown from the late ’40s to 1951. I don’t know if they are still living, but I wish I could see each one of them. They worked well with me,” said 86-year-old Ruby Lee Kenney, who is now a long-time Virden Addition resident.
The Midwives Alliance of North America has reported that like Kenney’s four children, 80 percent of the people who are alive today have been delivered with midwives.
The alliance notes that under the care of midwives the following occur: infant and maternal mortality and morbidity reduction, fewer medical interventions, decreased costs, increased savings and improved client satisfaction.
Recognizing the value of midwifery, the Scott Ford House Board of Directors has ensured that properties at 136 and 138 on East Cohea St. in Jackson have been returned to Scott Ford, Inc. “We lost the properties for failure to pay taxes. Developer Clarence Chapman was going to tear them down, but he reverted the properties back to the city, and the city reverted them back to Scott Ford, Inc.,” said Harrison. Recently, Harrison, Dorothy Stewart (board member and founder of Women for Progress), Ruth Weir, Virginia Scott Ford’s granddaughter, and Rep. Alyce G. Clarke visited the properties and met with Von Anderson at the Chancery Clerk’s office for property clearance.
Harrison noted that the two houses were built in 1891-1892 and that they served as home to Mary Green Scott, former slave, and her daughter and son-in-law, Virginia and John Ford. Virginia was a practicing midwife from 1898 to 1928. She and her family were among the first freed African Americans to develop their own homes in Jackson on Cohea Street. For more than a century, the Fords and their descendants owned the properties. In the early 1990s, Ford family descendants, friends, individuals and organizations dedicated to preserving the Farish Street community history formed Scott Ford House, Inc. as a non-profit corporation in 1995 with the goal of preserving the properties to celebrate family accomplishments, and interpret the midwife story at the location. Highlighting family strides and portraying midwifery through the lens of the Scott Ford House as a museum and interpretive center promotes resurging interest in home birthing as a viable option to hospital care. Properties have “the potential to interpret a positive and uplifting part of our past for our grandchildren and their children and friends,” Harrison added.
Interpretation to preserve the past and offer hope for children and their children’s children, then, is a vision held by Scott Ford House, Inc.
“Despite the overwhelming number of people alive today who were born at home under the watchful care of a midwife, very little is known about these women individually and how their work shaped public health practices back then. Yet, their contributions have served as the forerunner for doula programs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and other similar ones across the nation,” Harrison said. Thus, the board projects that the museum and interpretive center will house artifacts from a bygone era and tell the story of those times through oral history recordings, archived pictures, video footage, etc. and use such as a source of study among scholars and a means of communicating the significance of this legacy among historians, culturalists, storytellers and the general public.
The Scott Ford House board has established a fund drive overseen by the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson. The non-profit foundation serves as the board’s fiscal partner and is responsible for managing all of the organization’s funds, including grants. The board and friends plan to request a $500,000 line budget item for restoring the two houses as Mississippi landmarks.