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The Home of the Dora Nelson Museum

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By Cheryl Brown
The Black Voice News

The founder, funder and heartbeat of the Dora Nelson Museum located in Perris, CA are George and Mabel Kearney. The museum was born out of Mrs. Kearney's guilt. She coveted two beautiful Victorian screen doors on the Nelson home when she came to Perris. The house was falling apart and Mrs. Kearney offered to tear it down. Once it was gone, she found out it was the first Black Church in Perris. Mrs. Kearney was horrified, to her the church was everything; and  not to be destroyed.  After a trip to Washington, D.C. in the 1970's for the unveiling of the National Council of Negro Women's Museum she vowed to return home and somehow, someway honor Nelson.  Using her Social Security check and a few donations she worked toward her goal.

Several years passed and her hard work paid off. The Dora Nelson Museum is a reality. Mrs. Kearney doesn't have to feel guilty anymore.

Dora Nelson was born enslaved on February 2, 1852 in Georgia. In the early 1900s, she was invited by her brother-in-law to come take care of her sister-in-law, Mary Ann Nelson who was very ill.  After emancipation Dora Nelson moved to Evanston, Indiana but when she was called on she moved to California.

The actual story begins with the old house that had the most beautiful Victorian doors Mrs. Kearney had ever seen, the problem was the rest of the building needed to be torn down. The city had red tagged it for demolition. The Kearney's had 11 children and went to the former owner of the house  and offered to tear the building down for $25.  She knew they would not turn her down for such a ridiculous amount of money. Her motive was to get the doors. "I would do anything to have those screen doors," she said. It wasn't until after the building was gone that Phyllis Hughes, a newspaper reporter, asked at a Human Relation's Committee meeting, who on earth tore down that old house. That was the first Black Church in Perris, she informed them. "I was taught church was everything, it was sacred. I felt bad. I was indebited to the Black community," said Kearney. And then she found out the house belonged to her mother's best friend.

When Dora Nelson came to Perris there was not a Black church, they were allowed to attend the Congregational Church in town but they were not allowed to join so they began the First Baptist Church. By 1924 Nelson's  house had become too crowded and it was a hot summer day in August of 1924 when the growing congregation met under the Chinaberry tree to formalized the church with Rev. A.F Seaton from Ontario Baptist Church, Ontario, CA and Rev. Cooper, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Riverside, CA.

A visit to the Museum takes you back to the past and those doors she wanted so bad. One survived and is in the museum along with a plethora of old fashioned turn of the century items. The museum is located at 316 E. 7th Street, Perris, CA.

Click HERE to view pictures.

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