A couple doors down from the corner of Driskell and Wendelkin streets in South Dallas is what used to be a beautiful historic landmark, the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum, now completely damaged from two intentionally set fires.
“I have been trying to wrap my brain around it to try to understand why someone would do something like this,” says Connie Gilliam Harris, daughter of the late Kathlyn Gilliam and president of the museum.
The windows, electricity, roof, central air and heat system, walls and kitchen appliances are completely charred. The museum, which is Gilliam’s former home, needs complete restoration.
The first fire took place the morning of Nov. 21 and resulted in smoke damage at the front of the home. Luckily, firefighters were able to put it out before it damaged any of the artifacts. The second fire, however, which took place on New Year’s Day around the same time, was much more extensive.
“One of the neighbors came down and said, ‘Your mother’s house is on fire again.’ So we drove down and I was just heartbroken because I knew then that someone had intentionally attempted to burn it down,” Harris says.
The cause of the fire has been ruled undetermined. According to Dallas Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Evans, this simply means that there are multiple potential causes. He says firefighters did, however, observe the fire coming from a hole in the front window when they arrived on the scene of the first fire.
“She did not deserve this. She was really all about community and helping others,” Harris says.
Gilliam was known in the community as a champion for public school education, especially aiming to eliminate educational disparities for youth located in heavily populated minority neighborhoods.
“It’s important to preserve community heritage, and she was a major part of this community heritage. We want to encourage people to know about what she did and what she stood for, and inspire other people and students to support their communities.”
To donate to the restoration of the museum, visit the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Museum website.