African-American History Museum Taking Shape on National Mall

African-American History Museum Taking Shape on National Mall

With construction at the midway point, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is taking shape on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., McClatchy's Washington bureau reports.

Expected to open by early 2016, the museum has raised approximately $410 million of its $500 million cost of construction — $250 million from Congress and more than $160 million to date from private funders, including $12 million from Oprah Winfrey. "It's humbling," said Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director. "For the last eight and a half years, it was my job to make people believe."

Earlier this month the Links Foundation, the philanthropic arm of an organization of professional women of color, pledged $1 million toward the museum's construction costs. "We are thrilled to contribute to the National Museum of African American History and Culture," said Margot James Copeland, president of The Links, Inc. and its foundation. "This museum will allow our rich African-American story to be told and displayed for all to see. The contributions of our people, from the past and present, will be showcased and will provide hope and inspiration to continue building on our great legacy."

Designed by African-American architect Phil Freelon, the building will be a three-tiered ten-story structure with five stories above ground and five below. Inspired by the decorative ironwork crafted by slaves in Charleston and New Orleans, the exterior of the building will be layered with thirty-six hundred latticed bronze panels. Bunch told McClatchy the overall design was intended to be "an homage to those hiding in plain sight." The nineteenth Smithsonian museum is likely to be the last building to go up on already-crowded National Mall.

Some of the larger artifacts to be featured in the museum, including a restored Jim Crow-era railroad car with segregated compartments, already have been put in place so the building can be built around them. Visitors will be able to walk through the  Southern Railway car, which was used between 1940 and 1960 on routes in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, and see firsthand the comfortable seating for whites and the divider that kept African Americans in basic seating in the back of the car.

"This rail car...is a tangible remnant from America's long years of segregation, and those remnants are rare," said Peter Claussen, a Smithsonian National Board member and chairman and CEO of Gulf & Ohio Railways, which donated the rail car to the museum. "The separate water fountains are gone. The black and white sections of movie theaters are gone. There are very few objects that allow people to see what segregation was like, and this is one of them."