SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — After a years-long probate battle, a historic civil-rights era relic in Savannah will live on.

The Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) now owns the Virginia Jackson Kiah House. Kiah is a celebrated artist, teacher and activist. In 1959, Kiah and her husband established their home on W. 36th Street into a museum, one of the first to be started in Savannah by African-Americans.

Civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, walked the halls of the house. For that reason, HSF’s director of preservation and historic properties felt it was important to step in to save the building.

“In this case, it’s more than just the wood and the brick and the mortar,” Ryan Arvay said. “It’s really the legacy of Virginia Jackson Kiah that we are preserving. This building is a testament to her and her vision and the work that she did in the community.”

Arvay says this is a long time coming. The Historic Savannah Foundation has been fighting for ownership for the last two years. The building has been in probate since 2001 when Kiah died.

The foundation secured the contract to buy the property in July 2020, but Arvay said he still wasn’t confident the deal would go through.

“At no point in that two years did I ever think that this thing was a sure thing, that it was in the bag,” he said. “Even after the judge signed the order to sell the property a few weeks ago, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

As the contested probate process dragged on for two decades, the building’s upkeep fell. Arvay said that will be one of the first things to address.

The next will be finding a new purpose for the space. Arvay said the foundation would like to see it be used to serve the community but are open to all options. They plan to speak with residents in the Cuyler-Brownsville neighborhood to get their feedback as well.

While Savannah keeps growing, Arvay said it’s important to protect pieces of African-American history, which are often sacrificed for the sake of development.

“Whenever they would build a new highway or a freeway or there was some gigantic civic improvement project, historically those types of projects ran right through the middle of African-American neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s also a reminder to us all that African-American history is American history, period. And so we didn’t want to see another vital piece of that history lost. And at least here at 505 West 36th Street, this legacy will live on.”

Arvay said saving the home wouldn’t have been possible without the grassroots effort of community members over the last decade. On May 9, some of those activists will be honored as they lay a historic marker outside the house.