The Fielder and Brooks Drug Store is an unassuming building located in the Urban Center National Register Historic District but it represents part of Meridian's past in the civil rights movement.
Meridian Main Street was awarded a $2,307 grant by the National Trust for Historic Preservation from the David K. Thorne Intervention Fund. The seed grant funds will be used to complete a structural assessment of the Fielder and Brooks Building, 2505 Fifth St., in Meridian to evaluate the feasibility of restoring the existing structure for safe public access serving as The Freedom Summer Center, a civil rights museum, archive and educational facility. The project tasks include the assessment of the existing structural members, such as roof, bearing walls, foundations, for both gravity loads as well as lateral loads (wind and seismic).
The two-story commercial building clad in stucco was constructed in 1879. A plaque on the second story facade lists the architect and builder as L. Scully, the same man who built the Cohn Sheehan buildings across the street.
The building is located in Meridian’s traditionally African American business district. For decades the building housed the Fielder and Brooks Drug Store, a pharmacy for African Americans. It is also extremely significant as it was part of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi.
In 1964 the Meridian chapter of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) moved their office to the second floor above the drug store. Civil Rights activities in East Central Mississippi were organized from here and it also had a community center with donated books housed on shelves built by Mickey and Rita Schwerner. In June of 1964 Civil Rights activists Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman left Meridian from the COFO office for Neshoba County where they were arrested and killed. The building has undergone some changes over the years but still retains its important significance tied to the African American business community of Meridian and the Civil Rights movement. The building is listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust's 2011 10 Most Endangered Sites.
"Without organizations like Meridian Main Street, communities and towns all across America would have a diminished sense of place," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The National Trust for Historic Preservation is honored to provide a grant to Meridian Main Street, which will use the funds to help preserve an important piece of our shared heritage."
Meridian Main Street applied for the funds in support of Freedom 64, Inc., a local not-for-profit organization, which holds a long term lease of the building. Freedom 64 is engaged in developing and preserving an understanding of the Civil Rights Movement in Meridian and East Mississippi.
Freedom 64's CEO, Roscoe Jones, Sr., served as a student organizer working out of the COFO Office in the Brooks and Fielder Building. He was also a student leader in the Meridian Freedom School in 1964 and was co-chair of the state-wide Freedom Summer Youth Convention at the Baptist Seminary in Meridian in August of 1964. As a high school student he participated in the Selma to Montgomery March. Freedom 64 is supported by a diverse, community-based board and advised by those who participated in the Meridian Freedom School.
"We appreciate the support of Meridian Main Street and The National Trust for Historic Preservation," Jones said. "Their actions affirm the support given the Fielder and Brooks, COFO office restoration by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History."
The National Trust for Historic Preservation dispenses small grants for local projects through the National Trust Preservation Funds grant program. The grants range from $500 to $5,000 and have provided more than $5.5 million dollars of funding since 2002. They are awarded to nonprofit groups, educational institutions and public agencies, and must be matched, at least dollar for dollar, with public or private funds.
Preservation Funds grants are being used nationally for such wide-ranging activities as consultant services for rehabilitating buildings, technical assistance for tourism that promotes historic resources and educating children about their heritage. These grants are often the deciding factor on whether historic buildings or sites can be saved for future generations.