Smithsonian breaks ground on African American museum

WASHINGTON, Robert MacPherson- The Smithsonian broke ground Wednesday along the National Mall in Washington for the only national museum dedicated exclusively to Americans of African heritage.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture -- due to open in 2015 -- will rise a stone's throw from the towering obelisk that honors George Washington, the slave-owning first president of the United States.
Barack Obama, the first black president, was among the VIPs at the long-awaited launch of construction.

"What we built here won't just be an achievement for our time, it will be a monument for all time," said Obama before Smithsonian officials drove silver shovels into the soil to symbolically signal the start of building work.
"It should stand as proof that the most important things in life rarely come quickly or easily. It should remind us that although we have yet to reach the mountaintop, we cannot stop climbing."
Inspired in design by traditional Yoruban art and architecture, the $500 million bronze-walled museum -- authorized by Congress in 2003 -- was co-conceived by Tanzanian-born, London-based architect David Adjaye.
Like the Smithsonian's 18 other sites, admission will be free to all.
Its director Lonnie Bunch has already collected more than 20,000 artifacts to fill it, from a shawl worn by 19th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman to a red Cadillac once driven by rock pioneer Chuck Berry.
Bunch told Wednesday's late morning ceremony that it was his hope that the museum would "help all Americans to remember and honor African American culture."
Other items collected so far include a segregated Pullman railroad car, a Stearman biplane used to train black Tuskegee fighter pilots during World War II, a jumpsuit from soul legend James Brown and two Ku Klux Klan outfits.
Congress has pledged half the money needed for the project, with fundraisers -- including former first lady Laura Bush -- so far getting $100 million in pledges from corporate donors and foundations.
Bunch has also reached out to the estimated 350 other African American museums across the United States, many of them struggling rural operations, to reassure them that the mammoth Smithsonian project will not overwhelm them.
"I feel they have the confidence of the African American museum community," Samuel Black, president of the Association of African American Museums, told AFP from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"This is a different type of African American museum.... It's not just a museum that speaks to African Americans," Black said. "It's a museum that's going to speak to the world."
Several other Smithsonian premises already line the National Mall, including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of the American Indian.
The Smithsonian also runs a small African American community museum in a one-time movie theater in Washington's little-visited Anacostia district.

Wednesday, February 22nd 2012
Robert MacPherson

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