‘A Special Place In Their Hearts’: Samuel L. Jackson and Wife LaTanya Richardson Jackson Make Largest Alumni Donation to Help Renovate Spelman College’s Performing Arts Building

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Samuel L. Jackson and his wife LaTanya Richardson Jackson are helping a long-talked-about project come to fruition at Spelman College.

For years leaders of the historically Black college in Atlanta have hoped to begin the process of renovating its John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts building. Now, with a total of $17.3 million in donations received, the building first opened in 1964 will finally get the face-lift it has needed.

US actor Samuel L. Jackson and his wife US actress LaTanya Richardson attend the premiere of “Shaft” at AMC Lincoln Square on June 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
US actor Samuel L. Jackson and his wife US actress LaTanya Richardson attend the premiere of “Shaft” at AMC Lincoln Square on June 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

The acting duo, who are both alumni of the Atlanta University Center — Jackson, Morehouse class of ’72, and Richardson Jackson, Spelman class of ’74 — gifted the all-female college $5 million; the largest donation to come from alumni in the school’s 140-year history.

Other donations included $10 million from Hollywood juggernaut George Lucas, creator of the “Star Wars” franchise, and his wife Mellody Hobson, $2 million from Bank of America, and $300,000 from the descendants of John D. Rockefeller.

John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts building. Photo: Spelman College Archives/ savingplaces.org
John D. Rockefeller Fine Arts building. Photo: Spelman College Archives/ savingplaces.org

“Renovation talk has been going on since I arrived at Spelman over seven and a half years ago,” Aku Kadogo, Spelman theater and performance department chair, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You don’t really believe it until you see it, so I’m excited this is happening.”

Areas to be addressed in the renovation kicking off in spring of 2022 include removal of asbestos, improving the building’s handicap accessibility, upgrading bathrooms and dressing rooms, as well as the ventilation system. The 57-year old building holds sentimental value for thespians and performers who have graced the stage, including the “Django” actor and his wife.

“It has a special place in their hearts,” shared Arthur E. Frazier III, Spelman’s director of facilities management and services. “One of the initial conversations I had with her [Richardson Jackson] happened to be on her 40th wedding anniversary. She shared that she and Sam met for the second time in that building,” Frazier added.

When renovations are complete the Baldwin Burroughs Theater, its lobby and dressing rooms, will be renamed LaTanya Richardson and Samuel L. Jackson Performing Arts Center. Fine arts programs at historically Black college and universities have made headlines in recent years. At Howard University in Washington, D.C., alum and later actor Chadwick Boseman was honored posthumously when the school named its fine arts college after him earlier this year. This year the school also announced beloved Cosby mom Phylicia Rashad as the dean of the reestablished Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts.

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