A century ago, Edwardsville’s black students marched into the tall brick building on North Main Street each day for lessons under the cloud of segregation.
Now lessons will resume, but with a different purpose.
In 1912, the county’s brick office building on North Main Street was designated as the segregated school for black children in Edwardsville. That lasted until 1951, when Edwardsville integrated its schools. After a brief renovation, Lincoln School reopened for 20 years as an integrated elementary school.
For a short time in the 1970s, it was a small shopping center. In 1999, it became the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
But in 2008, former Lincoln School student and Harlem Globetrotter Mannie Jackson bought the vacant building for $600,000 and donated it to Lewis & Clark Community College, along with another $200,000 for an endowment. The college then put $4.5 million in life-safety funds into a major renovation of the building.
For months now, construction crews have been renovating the Lincoln School into an upgraded, handicapped-accessible building with classrooms, multipurpose halls, offices and more, as the old school becomes a civic center, lecture hall and, organizers hope, a force for change and conversation in the region.
The center officially opens next month. A public open house from 1-6 p.m. Monday will take place to allow people to explore the new building, located at 1210 N. Main St., Edwardsville.
The new nonprofit Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities has raised nearly $7 million toward a series of programs to create a brighter future, according to its executive director, Ed Hightower, former superintendent of Edwardsville District 7.
“Humanities” might be broadly defined as the academic study of human culture, he said, but the goal for the center is to become a core of communication about understanding people and their differences.
“As a country, we are becoming more and more polarized,” Hightower said. “People aren’t listening to each other, and there’s a lack of respect and civility.”
The goals — set by Jackson and by Hightower — are to foster “respect, civility, understanding and forgiveness” by increasing education and dialogue in the community, Hightower said. The center’s mission is to create conditions where conversations can occur, to facilitate positive change with meaningful, constructive dialogue, he said.
Dale Chapman, president of Lewis & Clark Community College, said he sees the humanities as a roadmap for the perspective of living in the 21st century.
“We must learn to listen to our neighbors from around the world, and develop a better understanding and appreciation for their struggles and concerns, to inform our way forward to solutions and progress,” he said. It will also provide internships and support for symposia and conferences, he said. “The concept is really aligned with the cultural values of Lewis & Clark Community College... It’s a powerful direction to serve the college well for generations to come.”
The humanities program will kick off with three main areas of focus in its first year:
▪ The series of guest speakers on the humanities, which begins in March at the inaugural Jackson Center dinner with retired Gen. Colin Powell. A four-star general with two Presidential Medals of Freedom, Powell was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 and served as U.S. Secretary of State under President George W. Bush in 2000.
Due to anticipated size of the crowd, Powell’s speech will actually be hosted at SIUE. “We were fortunate to have him agree to come,” Hightower said.
▪ A series of summer leadership programs for young people, developing youth forums to promote meaningful dialogue and help the students develop plans for those conversations in their own schools. Developed in partnership with the Madison County Regional Superintendent’s Office, the program will help students “think outside the box and their comfort zones to reflect… on how we must treat each other if we are to exist as a productive and contributing society.”
▪ STEM programming focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics for young people, with summer day camp programs coordinated with SIUE and the Madison County Housing Authority for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Hightower recently retired after 19 years as superintendent of Edwardsville District 7, and has served on the board of directors for a number of organizations, including SIUE and Lewis & Clark. He admitted his retirement from District 7 lasted “about a day” before he delved into his work with the Jackson Center.
“It’s a program that means so much to this country,” Hightower said. “We will serve as an incubator to push the conversation and give direction to public and private organizations looking for guidance and direction.”
The historical significance of the Lincoln School was part of the draw. Popular with its graduates, the school has had an alumni association for decades, many of whom have toured the building during its construction.
“They are so excited,” Hightower said. “We’ve had an amazing show of support by donors and well-wishers, people who remember the old Lincoln School.”
Jackson himself attended Lincoln School, but segregation ended just in time for him to go to an integrated high school. He was one of seven black students that were the second class to enroll at Edwardsville High, and went on to lead the basketball team to the state championship finals for the first time. Jackson attended the University of Illinois on a basketball scholarship and went on to play with, and eventually own, the Harlem Globetrotters. He is now a wealthy businessman, and his investment doesn’t stop with the center bearing his name, Hightower said.
“I have faced many societal challenges during my life,” Jackson said in a statement. “The formation of this center will result in programs that give people a better understanding of societal differences and how we should embrace those differences. Without that understanding, people throughout the world will continue to have conflicts with other cultures.”
The center itself is only the start. Phase two of the project includes an $18 million conference center that will be a public facility managed through Lewis & Clark, a parking garage, a science-and-technology learning center and a privately-run hotel that will be Jackson’s venture.
While the interior conference rooms at the Jackson Center will host up to 150 people for individual events, the conference center planned for the undeveloped land north of the center would seat up to 1,200. It was hoped to build it as a partnership between Lewis & Clark and the state of Illinois, Hightower said, but given the state’s financial situation, they are also exploring federal grants and other sources of funds.
Adjacent to the conference center would be a multi-story STEM Center renovated from an existing brick building for science, technology, engineering and math programming. North of that would be the hotel, in which Jackson intends to invest about $22 million, Hightower said.
“That’s what makes this such an appealing project: it’s a public-private partnership,” Hightower said.
Across the street lies the long-closed Rusty’s restaurant, which was to be razed for the parking garage. However, a wrinkle developed when it was discovered that the restaurant contains the walls of a historic building.
According to Casey Weeks, chairman of the Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission, the Pogue Store dates back to 1819 and is the oldest structure still standing in Edwardsville. The building that last housed the Rusty’s restaurant was built around the brick walls of Pogue’s Store, which is entirely contained within Rusty’s.
“After the architects found what we thought was a wall and turned out to be this historic structure, we’ve slowed the engine for exploratory purposes,” Hightower said.
Weeks and Chapman have toured the building with city officials and architects, she said. It is designated as a local landmark. But instead of developers and historic preservation leaders butting heads, both sides said they are working to find a solution that will preserve the building and allow the development to proceed.
“We will do our best to compromise on the site and work with Lewis & Clark on the development,” Weeks said. “Main Street has seen a lot of restoration and new development… We want to preserve our history, but we don’t want to stop progress from keeping these buildings structurally fit.”
Hightower said the entire project begins with preserving and respecting history while looking to the future. He pointed to the partnership between Lewis & Clark and District 7 schools in renovating the old Nelson factory buildings in Leclaire into a satellite campus for the community college and for some high school students.
“We’ve been very sensitive to the historical significance of this community,” Hightower said. “We’re working with historical groups to ensure we maintain the integrity and tradition of this great community.”
City leaders are enthusiastic about the project, which is estimated to have an annual economic impact of $11.1 million per year, with 389 full-time jobs. Construction is estimated to have an economic impact of $69.8 million and 457 jobs.
Those are good numbers for Walter Williams, Edwardsville’s economic development director.
“This is great; it’s fantastic,” Williams said. “When everything is said and done — and we believe Mr. Jackson will be able to complete this project — this is an $81 million impact in our community over the construction period.”
Most of the project lies within the city’s North Main tax increment financing district, implemented in 2007, Williams said. The city initially used that TIF fund to put in sewer lines and sidewalks, and razed an old trailer court for a gravel parking lot near the center. So far no other incentive package has been proposed; nonprofits cannot receive TIF incentives, but a for-profit entity could get some assistance, Williams said.
But the real key is the impact it could have on the rest of downtown Edwardsville, Williams said.
“Already we have had more facade applications this year than the last four to five years combined,” he said. “Real estate is being purchased in anticipation that whatever happens on the northern end (of Main Street) will have a multiplier effect on the south end.”
Mayor Hal Patton praised the project and the participation of both Chapman and Hightower. “Their involvement will guarantee a world-class facility on the north end of Main Street in Edwardsville,” Patton said. “Right now we are seeing the first phase of the project. Because of the involvement of these two individuals, we expect the full plan to come to fruition.”
Hightower praised both city and county officials for helping them develop the project, in particular Patton and Madison County Chairman Alan Dunstan, who he said was helping them contact federal legislators in search of more funding.
“When you look at how Edwardsville and Glen Carbon have grown, it’s been that visionary effort by the leadership of municipalities and others working together,” Hightower said. “Alan Dunstan has worked hard to make this project work, because he understands its economic impact for the region... Everybody understands that this project has an opportunity to be a driver for the local economy.”
Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Complex
- Construction economic impact: $69,870,589
- Construction jobs: 457 with labor income of $27,232,566
- Construction state/local tax income: $2,797,768
- Annual operations economic impact: $11,143,614
- Permanent jobs: 389 full-time equivalent with labor income of $9,709,189
- Annual state/local tax income: $751,941