The Old Dillard Museum, under the auspices of the School Board of Broward County, occupies a prominent place in the history of Fort Lauderdale and has, over the years, presented educational opportunities for African-Americans as the first school constructed for people of color in this area. Formerly called "the colored school," Old Dillard was erected on land purchased from Ft. Lauderdale pioneers Frank and Ivy Stranahan for one dollar.
The first school for African-American students in Fort Lauderdale began with 10 students in 1907 in a one-room wooden building on Northwest Third Avenue between Broward Boulevard and Northwest Second Street. In 1910, the school was torn down. The students attended classes at the lodge hall on the corner of Fourth Street and Northwest Fourth Avenue until the construction of the new "Colored School" was completed in March 1924, at a cost of $13,950.24.
In 1930, at the request of the then-Principal Dr. Joseph A. Ely, the school was renamed after Dr. James Hardy Dillard, who was a prominent philanthropist and educator. Since its construction, this landmark has served as an important educational and cultural center for Fort Lauderdale's African-American community. Regarded by all as one of Broward County's most significant links to the past, the historically distinctive structure has been restored to serve the community as a museum and cultural/educational center. It exists today because of Broward community efforts, and its success points to wide aspirations for future projects involving all segments of our city and county.
The existence of Old Dillard primarily represents the social climate for African Americans in Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s; within this historical context, it serves as a constant reminder to the multicultural community of its proud and rich heritage, and the community's strong determination and perseverance to succeed.
The museum not only serves the African-American community in which it resides, but it provides a valuable resource to historians and other visitors interested in black history. All races and cultures have an opportunity to develop an understanding and appreciation for this rich heritage. Eventually, a partnership was formed with the School Board of Broward County, the City of Fort Lauderdale, the Broward County Commission, and the Black Historical Society to renovate and preserve the Old Dillard School and to develop the Cultural Center in which the Old Dillard Museum is presently housed.
Through funding from the city, county, School Board, and the State of Florida's PECO Fund, the building was renovated. In February 1991, the museum was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum's grand opening was held on April 27, 1995. The extraordinary story of the Old Dillard Museum and its community's existence was and continues to be, one of quiet triumph and endurance. It is a celebration of what has been, is, and will be. The journey continues!
Old Dillard Museum's mission:
- Facilitate collaborative relationships and actions that allow and assure sustainable resources to support successful museum programs and projects that celebrate the pride, history, and culture of the African-American community.
- To be widely recognized for excellence in governance, fund-raising, and stewardship in support of African-American heritage and culture.
- The overall framework for the Old Dillard Museum's artistic and programmatic philosophy is community. The organization seeks to integrate cultural and educational programs with the heritage, revitalization, and development of the Sistrunk corridor of Fort Lauderdale. The predominantly African-American community has a strong historical attachment to Dillard High School, other predominantly black high schools in Broward County, and to other cultural endeavors that were common to African-Americans in the county, state, and nation.
- The museum’s philosophy is to present the best practices and highest quality of visual and performing arts to inspire community self-esteem, cooperative activism, and an appreciation of cultural diversity.