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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

New African American Museum Will One Day Record D.C. as Last to be Free

Nov 20, 2015

By Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

The Smithsonian Museum of African American History, not yet opened to the public, was introduced to the District this week.  Ever the visionary, Director Lonnie Bunch engineered a mixture of history and music with the sites as a background with D.C. citizens the first to be there, even before the grand opening with the President in 2016.  This introduction was not just because the Museum is located in the city.  The District of Columbia is one of the nation’s oldest cities, created deliberately by the framers as a southern city where slaves could be bought and sold.  My great grandfather, Richard Holmes, came here as a runaway slave from a Virginia plantation.  The framers did not foresee that slaves in the District would make history when Congress passed legislation to free them almost a year before the Emancipation Proclamation.  In 2003, when Congress authorized the National African American History and Culture Act, we did not foresee that this museum would actually open during the 150th commemoration of the Civil War. 

As a museum of both African American history and culture, this museum is destined to celebrate history in the process of being made.  Not yet recorded as a historical fact, but as inevitable as were the Civil War freedom amendments, is our pending bill to make the District of Columbia the 51st state.  We must resolve to meet here to commemorate the day we in the District no longer will be first to be liberated, last to be free.