Who Axed the African American Museum on the Mall?

By Dennis, Raoul | The New Crisis, February/March 1998 | Go to article overview

Who Axed the African American Museum on the Mall?


Dennis, Raoul, The New Crisis


Unless you were well-versed in political intrigue, you might believe that culturally-specific museums are the rave in the nation's capital. The National Mall in Washington, D.C., houses the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of African Art and its Sackler Museum of Asian Art. Nearby, the new Holocaust Museum stands as a witness to the Jews who perished in Hitler's madness.

The Institution also maintains another museum of Asian Art, the Freer Gallery, and plans to construct a National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). In addition, the United States Mint recently authorized a commemorative coin to help finance the construction of a memorial on the Mall to commemorate the AfricanAmerican patriots of the Revolutionary War.

This evidence suggests that ethnically-focused museums and monuments are growing in Washington. Therefore, the big mystery: Why does the plan to build a National African-American Museum (NAAM) remain a dream deferred?

The answer is a political detective story that spans nearly 15 years and has a fascinating cast of characters.

THE LINE UP

The True Believer

Tom Mack is a successful African-American businessman who fell in love with the idea of building a black museum on the Mall to document the horrors of slavery. Unfortunately, love is blind, and Mack, who invested at least $10,000 of his own money in the idea, knew little about the management or political realities of building a museum.

The Martyr Mickey Leland, the well-liked Congressman (DTexas) tried to move Mack's vision forward. Unfortunately, Leland was killed in a 1989 plane crash.

The Hero

Civil Rights veteran, Congressman Tohn Lewis (D-. Georgia), aided by Senator Paul Simon (D-Illinois) and Congressman Bill Clay (D-Missouri), put together a plan to get the black museum through Congress. But at the last minute, Lewis' idea was brutally sabotaged.

The Villains

Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina ), is a logical suspect. He is a notorious repeat offender when it comes to shooting down progressive legislation. Believed to be angry that the NMAI became law, he sandbagged the African-American museum.

Gus Savage (D-Illinois) was a Congressman who lost his seat in wake of a sexual harassment scandal. On Capitol Hill, he had a reputation as a hard-drinking loose cannon. After becoming Mack's ally, Savage snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Expert Witnesses

Many members of the African-American Museums Association (AAMA) had the know-how Mack lacked, but had practical and ideological reasons to want Mack's plan to fail.

Our Story Unfolds...

Tom Mack is president of Washington's Tourmobile tour buses. For the better part of 20 years, he eyeballed the National Mall with the sense that something was missing. He was frustrated that there were not any African-American sites on the Mall that were comparable to the major Smithsonian museums.

"I wanted to build a black museum because blacks are not equitably, reasonably or fairly represented on the Mall," Mack said. "In fact, we are hardly represented by the Smithsonian Institution at all. The Smithsonian charter calls for them to equitably represent everyone in the country, but they don't."

Mack decided to do it himself. In 1984, he formed the National Council for Education and Economic Development (NCEED) as a base from which to develop the National African-American Museum and sent his proposal to potential supporters.

"We tried to bring the Smithsonian on board. We went to Congress, the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund," Mack said. "With the exception of particular officers within the Urban League, they all said about the same thing, `We support you. We'll be in touch,' but nothing came forward. No resources, no money, no volunteers." However, he later found an ally in Leland, who, in 1986, managed to pass a unanimous, but non-binding and unfunded,

congressional resolution supporting the creation of a black museum on the Mall. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Who Axed the African American Museum on the Mall?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.