Smithsonian Says African American Museum Will Be Different

A new museum dedicated to African American history and culture will break ground next year.

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Early American Powder Horn, 1777. It was used during the American Revolution by a black soldier and former slave named Prince Simbo.

With $100 million in the bank and over 10,000 artifacts ready for display, the Smithsonian is gearing up to break ground on a new museum dedicated to African Americans next year. The National Museum of African American History and Culture comes with a $500 million price tag, half of which is being funded by the federal government, and will house, among other artifacts, Harriet Tubman’s silk shawl, a present from Queen Victoria in 1897, and a powder horn used by a former slave and black solider in the American Revolution. The museum will sit on the corner of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue, adjacent to the Washington Monument, and will be open for business in 2015, the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The Smithsonian asked Congress for $861.5 million for Fiscal Year 2012--$125 million of which would be used to construct this new museum.

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Democratic Rep. Jim Moran is worried a museum dedicated to one racial or ethnic group might turn away tourists and break up the American story. But Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Wayne Clough said the museum will make up for decades of ignoring blacks. “The Smithsonian, frankly, did not do what it should have done in the '60s, '70s and '80s to really broaden its reach to tell the more inclusive stories,” said Clough. “A lot of different groups feel they are not seen.”

Clough promises this museum won’t be like American Indian Museum, which Moran and other members of the appropriations committee find disappointing and has come under fire for being too exclusive and lacking historical depth. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s director and central artifact hunter “has studied other museums to understand how this one can be more inclusive in its story,” said Clough. “I think we will all be positively surprised.”

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