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African-American Civil War Museum Unveils its New Home on U Street

By Ben Lasky*

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

July 18th was a very hot Monday, but that did not deter the large crowd that turned out to participate in the commemoration of the opening of the African-American Civil War Museum’s new home at 1925 Vermont Avenue, NW. For information about its programs and special events, visit www.afroamcivilwar.org

Following a VIP reception held in a large tent in the plaza out front, the dedication and award ceremony took place. The program, which lasted nearly two hours, featured the likes of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu,  Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois, museum curator Hari Jones, president and CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce Barbara Lang, among many others.

While the building, the former Grimke Elementary School in which the museum is located, is quite large and the portion of the building which the museum occupies is the former gymnasium; and, in relation to the rest of the building, the space is quite small. The remainder of the building serves as the headquarters of the DC fire and emergency services department. According to museum founder and director Frank Smith, however, the museum will occupy the entire building within the next year. As of now though, that space is very limited. Hari Jones even jokingly commented while accepting his award how desperately a larger area is needed.

 Though there were guests from the immediate area who were invited to the event, including students from the Garnett Patterson Middle School a block away at 10th U Streets, most attendees seemed to be from outside the neighborhood.

 “It’s a tourist attraction, Smith told this reporter during a telephone interview, “and at three o’clock in the afternoon we had 80 tourists in here from out of town; but we worked hard at getting some of the local people out,” he added.

Smith also believes that this museum, along with the African-American Civil War Memorial across the plaza opposite the museum will benefit the area.

“One goal we have is to contribute to the revitalization to the street and to bring tourists to this area,” Smith said, “not only to see the museum and see this great neighborhood, but also shop and reach the businesses up here.”

 Smith says that he also believes that in order to make the area safe for tourists, it must first be made safe for the neighbors, citing various landscaping projects that the museum has worked on with neighbors to clean up the area.

 The reason why it is important to have to have museums like, Smith concluded, is because many believe that the participation of African-American soldiers in the Civil War is a part of history that has been overlooked; and, like all men who fight in wars, they cannot be forgotten.

As of the handful of attendees who stayed on after the dedicatory program to view the exhibits stated simply to this reporter, “Otherwise, how would the world know?”

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, is also a staff writer for The American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, while he pursues his degree in communications and journalism at AU.

 Copyright © 2011 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Ben Lasky. All rights reserved.