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African-American Military History Museum to open

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Source: Hattiesburg American

From the battlefields of the Revolutionary War to the streets of Iraq, African-American soldiers have given their lives to protect our freedom.

Now, their sacrifices are being given a place of honor in the African-American Military History Museum at the historic USO Club.

The grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony will be 11 a.m.-1 p.m. May 23. A short outdoor program will be followed by refreshments and museum giveaways. The museum will be open until 4 p.m.

“The USO Club is a historic landmark and is a one of a kind institution in the United States,” said Hattiesburg Convention Commissioner Iola Williams. “It’s amazing to see this building, which was once a symbol of segregation, become a symbol of freedom not only for African-Americans but for everyone. It is only fitting that some of our nation’s bravest be honored here.”

The USO Club opened in 1942 and was constructed by community volunteers who invested more than 40,000 hours in the project. It is currently the only surviving USO built exclusively for African-American soldiers, and in 2003 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More than 150 years of African-American military history will be displayed in this interactive museum. Beginning with the Buffalo Soldiers of the post civil war era through modern conflicts like Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, visitors will witness the service and sacrifice of African-American servicemen and women.

After a renovation funded by the Hattiesburg Convention Commission was completed, the museum installation began. Exhibits showcasing hundreds of artifacts, including one of the most complete sets of Spanish-American War medals are now being installed.

These intricate exhibits tell the story of famous black soldiers like Hattiesburg’s Jesse L. Brown, America’s first black naval aviator.

Also showcased are lesser known heroes such as Hattiesburg’s Ruth Bailey Earl, a representative of more than 500 black nurses during World War II. Large displays honoring the well-known Tuskegee Airmen and the famous Red Ball Express also will highlight the museum.

“Everyone associated with this project is very excited,” said retired Col. Sheila Varnado, president of the African-American Military History Committee. “To have a building that was built in 1942 designed to separate a group of citizens, now be a beautiful showcase of the very legacy of that group of Americans who served, and all who followed them, is very exhilarating and humbling at the same time.”

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Written by Symphony

May 18, 2009 at 4:54 pm

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