- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Supporters of a national museum to honor blacks yesterday dismissed charges they are duplicating efforts under way in other cities and announced the formation of a group aimed at making the long-standing promise of the museum a reality.
"This would be a national museum," said Frederick Douglass IV, president of the Friends of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and great-great-grandson of the 19th century abolitionist. "People come to Washington, D.C., for this experience, and we know that by being on the National Mall, it would have the opportunity to reach the broadest audience."
Similar projects are under way in several cities, including Baltimore, Detroit and Charleston, S.C., to chronicle the contributions of blacks. Several cities in Virginia also are competing to be the future site of a slavery museum first proposed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder in 1993.
Yesterday in Richmond, Mr. Wilder said he was disappointed with the latest proposal by Richmond officials, which he said is too small. City officials proposed a 9.9-acre site near the James River Canal that does not include waterfront space or the city's Fulton Gas Works property.
"This is just shocking to me," Mr. Wilder said of the latest proposal, which was delivered to his office last week. "That is a very narrow, small piece of land."
He is expected to announce his decision for the site early next month.
NMAAHC officials said they would work with all the proposed museums and would be a lobbying arm in Washington and nationally to bring more attention to the cause.
Mr. Douglass was joined by about 20 supporters and NMAAHC members during a press conference yesterday in front of the Smithsonian Castle. He said he was encouraged that legislation calling for $25 million in the 2002 federal budget to fund the creation of the museum had wide bipartisan support.
Legislation introduced this year by Sens. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, and Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, along with companion legislation in the House sponsored by Reps. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, and J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican, would authorize $15 million to convert the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building on the Mall into the new museum, as well as $10 million to set up a council to oversee the planning, design, renovation and initial management of the museum.
David Umansky, director of communications for the Smithsonian Institution, said if the new museum is approved, the institution would find alternative housing for the exhibits displayed in the Arts and Industries building, as well as the employees who work there. Under the current system, the Arts and Industries building displays temporary exhibits. Currently on display are presentations on the brain, women in sports and Chinese-American life.
NMAACH announced it has more than 50 supporters, including historically black colleges, Black Entertainment Television CEO Robert L. Johnson and the United Negro College Fund. Supporters declined to give a timeline for when they expect to have the museum constructed or a final cost analysis.
Mr. Douglass said he envisions a museum that would be interactive and energized. "You just can't give today's video generation [a piece of paper], you have to give them something lively," he said.
He suggested the museum might have an alternative listening program potentially geared toward grandparents and grandchildren, where they would come together and listen to each others' music. "People might find it painful, but thats what works," he said with a smile.
The museum also would display documents pertaining to slavery, as well as tell the stories of famous and not-so-famous blacks.
At the announcement yesterday, NMAACH officials displayed just a glimpse of what they hope the new museum would document, including the Emancipation Proclamation; "The Killing of Capt. Ferrer," a painting depicting the slaying of the captain of the Amistad slave ship; and a letter from Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson to a young fan named Mickey, who was sick.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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