- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003


The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to establish a national museum of black history and culture, pushing the plan a big step closer to reality after 15 years of efforts by John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and former civil rights leader.

Mr. Lewis has introduced legislation in each Congress since 1988 to create the museum. Every session, for one reason or another, the measure has failed in the House or Senate.

But the House passed by a 409-9 vote a bill to establish a museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Senate passed similar legislation in June and Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he would encourage President Bush to sign it this year.

“It’s a very significant step down a very, very long road,” said Mr. Lewis, Georgia Democrat. “The African-American story must be told and a national African-American museum in Washington, D.C., is critical to that story,” he said in a floor speech.

The estimated $400 million initial cost would be split evenly between the federal government and private sources. The bill authorizes $17 million in the first year to start the project.

The bill, if signed into law, would clear the way for fund raising and for the Smithsonian Board of Regents to choose a site within a year.

“It’s going to be fantastic,” said Mr. Frist, a member of the Board of Regents since 1995.

Though legislation passed the Senate by voice vote with little debate, the House held a hearing in July to air grievances over some proposed museum locations.

A commission set up by Mr. Bush in 2001 to study a National Museum of African American History and Culture recommended in its April report a site on the Capitol grounds across from the Botanical Gardens.

That recommendation, along with three others, made it into Senate legislation but was rejected in the House version, in part because some lawmakers thought it would set a precedent for other noncongressional structures on the Capitol grounds.

Capitol Police also objected to the potential security burden of a museum under their watch.

The sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said he hopes the Smithsonian will pick a prominent space on the Mall.

Proposed sites are the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, an area near the Washington Monument, an area closer to the Jefferson Memorial, and a waterfront site a few blocks south of the Mall.

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