National black history museum coming to D.C.

Planning is under way to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a new museum to grace the National Mall.

According to the Web site of the Smithsonian Institution, the museum “will be the only museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, art, history and culture.”

In December, President Bush signed legislation establishing that the museum would reside in the nation’s capital.

“And so when [it] opens . visitors will be able to have a much more vivid sense of what slavery meant for real men and real women,” said President George W. Bush in a statement.

The museum is set to have exhibitions on slavery, civil rights, the Harlem Renaissance, and even the recent election of black Chicago Senator Barak Obama.

“It’s important that our children know that there was a time in their nation’s history when one in every seven human beings was the property of another,” the president said. “It’s important lesson of a shameful period that the young must never forget.”

The president’s legislation called for a council to be established to assist in designing planning for the construction and operation of the new museum.

The 19-person council consists of leaders from various universities and businesses who will help the Smithsonian by serving one- to three-year terms.

High-profile members of the council include Oprah Winfrey; Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert; James Ireland Cash, senior associate dean of the Harvard Business School, Richard D. Parsons, Chairmen and CEO of Time Warner Inc.; and Walter Massey, President of Morehouse College.

“When we think of museums, we tend to think in the past tense. This, to me, should be a living, breathing place,” said Swygert.

The museum legislation also called for a place to be picked for the building of the museum. Up to four sites were under consideration until the Smithsonian released a statement in late January declaring that the museum will be built on the National Mall near the Washington Monument and the National Museum of the American Indian, which opened last year.

Lonnie G. Bunch, president of the Chicago Historical Society, is to be the new museum’s director.
“It will tell the stories of African-American culture from slavery right through civil rights,” Bunch said in a statement.

However, Bunch is concerned about funding for the new museum.

“Even though a great deal of work has been done by the Smithsonian, you have the practical challenge of building a staff.and you have the profound fundraising challenges,” she said.

The federal government will appropriate over $400 million to the establishment of the museum over the course of its construction. The museum’s council plans to raise the rest of the money for the museum in donations.

According to USA Today, the idea for a national African-American museum has been around for almost 90 years. Various senators have pushed for the creation of one since the mid-1980s.

The Smithsonian Institution and various members of the council have said the museum could be completed in as little as five to seven years.

“The African American experience is one of the most important threads in the American tapestry,” Senator Bill Frist said in a statement. “The National Museum of African American History and Culture promised to because one of our nation’s most prominent cultural landmarks.”

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