- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Of the state and local institutions devoted to interpreting black history, the following are considered by national museum director Lonnie Bunch to be among the most significant:

California African-American Museum, Los Angeles

The museum’s building in Exposition Park opened during the 1984 Olympic Games and has undergone a major remodeling. Among its holdings are 19th-century landscapes, modern paintings from the Harlem Renaissance and memorabilia from the estate of Tom Bradley, the only black mayor of Los Angeles. Mr. Bunch, who helped to establish the museum, explains its significance as “telling important stories about the West and the promise of American life.”

Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, Detroit

Based in a 120,000-square-foot building, the 44-year-old museum is named for its founder, Dr. Charles H. Wright, an obstetrician and gynecologist. In addition to a core exhibition addressing black history, the domed structure includes five galleries for changing displays. In June, it will open a Michael Jackson retrospective organized with Detroit’s Motown Museum. “This is a museum with great potential,” says Mr. Bunch. “It has great space, brilliant leadership and is well positioned to tell the important story of the underground railroad.”

DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago

“This is one of the best educational museums in the country in terms of its involvement with youth and children,” says Mr. Bunch. Named for the father of Chicago, Haitian colonist Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the 58,000-square-foot museum was founded in 1961 by artist and teacher Margaret Burroughs. It features permanent exhibits on military history, the first black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington; and artworks by leading black painters and sculptors. Among its programs for children are theater and dance workshops. The museum is renovating a nearby stable designed by 19th-century Chicago architect Daniel Burnham to house more galleries and offices, a library and a cafe.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York City

This archives is named for Puerto Rico-born bibliophile Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, who donated his books to the New York Public Library in 1926. An anchor of the Harlem community, it recently underwent a two-year, $11 million renovation. Alex Haley researched his novel “Roots” here, and James Baldwin, Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis were frequent visitors. The Schomburg’s comprehensive collections, including paintings and photographs by black artists, often serve as the basis of exhibitions at the center. “This flagship institution reminds us of the power of history,” says Mr. Bunch.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati

The 158,000-square-foot marble-clad museum opened in 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River. Its national Freedom Stations program aims to link underground railroad sites and museums engaged in slavery-era research. The centerpiece of its exhibits is an early 1800s Kentucky farm cabin where enslaved blacks were chained before being moved farther south and sold. “This slave pen reminds you of the power of an object,” says Mr. Bunch.

Deborah K. Dietsch

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