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Black museum raises debate.

The move to establish a national African-American museum within the Smithsonian Institution has caused friction in the black community. While most community leaders support the project, some seek greater black control of the museum and others worry that it will have a negative impact on already-established African-American museums.

Last May, the Smithsonian board of regents approved in principle the establishment of the proposed museum. It will be located in the East Hall of the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. A budget for the museum hasn't yet been approved, but since 1990, $320,100 in federal and private contributions have funded the planning of the project, and $244,000 in federal aid is expected for 1992.

A bill sponsored by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Sen. Paul Simon (D-III.) that would officially establish the National African-American Museum as a bureau of the Smithsonian is still pending in Congress. According to Smithsonian spokesperson Madeleine Jacobs, if the legislation passes this term, a "phased-in" opening of the museum could begin in 1996.

Unfortunately, the thought of having African-American history "controlled" by what is viewed largely as a white institution has some up in arms. Disagreements between Rep. Lewis and Tom Mack, chairman of the National Council for Education and Economic Development (NCEED), have delayed the bill.

"[The Smithsonian] cannot and will not handle African-American history the way a responsible group of African-American scholars, historians and educators can," says Mack, who founded NCEED for the purpose of establishing the museum. Mack says the museum should be established under a separate board of directors that is at least 51% black. Smithsonian deputy director of museums Claudine Brown says, "The legislation may be stalled, but the Smithsonian is committed to the museum."

Supporters of the project believe the Smithsonian's reputation will enhance the museum's credibility. "The Smithsonian attracts an influx of museum goers nationally and from around the world," says Howard Dodson, chief of the New York-based Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. "It is imperative that our cultural contributions are given full voice in that setting."

But even those who agree with the plan have some misgivings. "The project s a good idea," says Dr. Marian J. Moore, executive director of the Detroit-based Museum of African-American History, "But I hope that the Smithsonian won't take away from local African-American museums searching for donors of artifacts." The Smithsonian began identifying collections for the proposed museum last July.
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Title Annotation:proposed African American museum in the Smithsonian
Author:Guilford, LeGina
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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