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Boeing gives Smithsonian $5 million for black history museum

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By Brett Zongker

The Smithsonian Institution began a push Wednesday to raise corporate funds for a new museum dedicated to black history, announcing a $5 million gift from Boeing Co.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open in 2015 on the National Mall near the Washington Monument. It will be the Smithsonian’s 19th museum.

“This is a museum for all of us. … This is all our history,” said Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a Boeing vice president and the granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. “We have to know this story in order to build a nation that is solidly committed and successful at creating a free society.”

Boeing, citing its commitment to diversity, will give $5 million over five years to support the museum’s development, officials said. The Chicago-based aerospace and defense company has been a longtime supporter of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

The new museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, is working to raise half the project’s $500 million cost with the rest of the money coming from Congress. The gift from Boeing is the museum’s largest to date, Bunch said. He would not reveal how much the museum has raised in its silent phase of fundraising.

Bunch said he hopes Boeing’s gift will help generate more corporate funding for the museum as well as similar black history programs in local communities – even during a downturn in the economy.

“We’re really trying to help rather than come in as the big guerrilla and take everything (from smaller museums),” he said. “I want the corporate community to know that this is on their radar screen.”

Also Wednesday, the black history museum unveiled recent acquisitions for its collection, including items donated by a Chicago woman who attended a preservation workshop recently put on by the museum. One piece that excites curators is a white Pullman Porter cap that was worn by one of the top-ranked train car attendants between the 1920s and 1940s. The Pullman company had been the largest single employer of black men in the 1920s. The museum is planning an exhibit with a Pullman car to tell part of that story, curator Michele Gates Moresi said.

Other acquisitions include hundreds of items from New York’s one-time Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander Lane, which was later moved to Washington in 1988 and operated as a mobile mini-museum. Two items came from the Broadway production “The Wiz,” an all-black 1970s adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

The museum also has acquired a segregation sign from the 1950s transit system in Nashville, Tenn. Such objects tell a story that’s both “difficult and is unbelievably optimistic,” Bunch said. “These are the kinds of things that are so important because our kids, my kids, really don’t understand what segregation was.”

SOURCE: Seattle Times

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