The restoration/renovation of the Central Agricultural Schoolhouse is the first phase of the museum's expansion plan. The Rosenwald funded school was built in 1931 in the community referred to as Convent, Central, and Romeville. Parents from the community raised the matching funds for the construction. The St. James Parish School board donated the historic building to the museum in 1996. The building was the cornerstone for educating African American children in St. James Parish from the 1930's to the l960's. It was sometimes referred to as the Romeville School. The opening exhibit is entitled, “The Education of African American Children in Rural Louisiana”.
There were about 400 Rosenwald schools in Louisiana. There are less than three remaining buildings open to the public.
The second phase of the River Road African American Museum Complex will be the restoration of the True Friends Hall. The True Friends Benevolent Society (1883-1973) was started five newly freed African American men as a mutual aid society. White owned insurance companies would not insure blacks after emancipation. Benevolent societies were formed to provide burial insurance, medical insurance, aid to fire victims, orphans and college students.
The hall was the center of civic and social activities providing a meeting place for members. It was the center for plays, carnival balls, concerts and dances. Local and nationally renowned musicians such as Claiborne Williams, Plas Johnson, Reynalds Richard, Fats Domino, Joe Tex, James Brown, Ike and Tina Turner performed on its stage.
Donaldsonville quickly turned into a “cultural mecca," for the river parish communities. The River Road African American Museum plans to use the building for an exhibit on the rural roots of jazz. It will also serve as a center for music and dance lessons, tutoring programs and meetings.
True Friends Hall is the oldest extant benevolent society building in the state.
The Africa Plantation House, located in Modeste, Louisiana is another building of African American significance in the Donaldsonville area. It was originally known as the Babin Place, then purchase by a benevolent organization called the Grand General Independent Order of Brothers and Sisters of Charity North American, South America, Liberia and Adjacent Islands (G. G. I. O. of B. & S. of L. &C.) in 1911. The organization renamed the farm the Africa Plantation. The organization raised crops to feed the poor and were advocates promoting good health, good hygene, and self sufficiency in the black community. The organization advocated against alcoholism and indolence. Dr. John H. Lowery, one of the first African American doctors in Donaldsonville purchased the farm in 1933. Later, it became the home of Leonard Julien, who invented the sugar cane planting machine in 1964.
The third phase includes the nine mile relocation of the Africa Plantation from Modest to the new museum site, adjacent to the Central Agricultural School and across the street from True Friends Hall. The house will be restored and used as a “house museum” exhibiting artifacts and documents from benevolent societies, Leonard Julien, and Dr. John H. Lowery.