By Jelani Scott
WASHINGTON – There are two main goals Frank Smith, director of the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum, wanted to accomplish by building the museum and memorial.
“One is to rebuild the community, and two is to correct the wrongs in history,” he said.
That is exactly what Smith is doing.
The museum, founded in 1998, has drawn millions of tourists from all over the world to the District’s historic U Street corridor, Smith said.
Its artifacts and documents tell a different story about the history of African-Americans in the United States – a story that is often swept under the rug of American history, according to Smith.
But the men who fought on the battlefield during the Civil War 150 years ago this April left a legacy that will last forever.
The museum and memorial are “the results of over 20 years of researching” about these soldiers, Smith said during an interview with a group of student journalists.
He said people must know about this story.
“It’s important for the black community to know that we did something to help ourselves,” Smith said. “It’s also important for white people to know that we valued that freedom so much that we were willing to risk our lives to get our own freedom.”
The memorial, located just blocks away from the museum near Mount Vernon Metro Station, makes the story that much more special. A striking sculpture called the Spirit of Freedom stands as the epicenter of the memorial and features uniformed black soldiers and a sailor as they leave home.
The sculpture is surrounded by a granite wall called the Wall of Honor. The names on the wall are those of every African-American soldier and officer who served in the Union Army during the war.
The sculpture reflects Smith’s idea for the tribute to the black soldiers, he said.
“Never give up on your dream,” Smith said. “These people didn’t give up and the sculpture represents that. When these people met adversity, they didn’t give up.”