By Arianna Poindexter
WASHINGTON – When the new African-American Civil War Museum has its grand opening this July, its founder hopes visitors gain a new respect for African-Americans’ struggles for freedom.
With flags draped from the ceiling, life-size portraits of soldiers, and a collage of images that paint a picture of the Civil War, the museum illuminates the significant role African-Americans played in the war.
“America wouldn’t be America today without the Civil War,” said Frank Smith, founder of the museum.
He said he hopes the museum will straighten out “wrongs” in history about African-Americans in the war that started 150 years ago in April. One of those so-called wrongs: African-Americans let others fight for their freedom when, in fact ,blacks fought their way out of slavery.
“The reality is that black people had to take up arms,” Smith told a group of student journalists during a preview of the museum’s collection in late March.”They had to join President Lincoln for the Emancipation Proclamation’s promise of freedom.”
There were 3.9 million people enslaved when the Civil War started on April 12, 1861, and Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. After a four-year battle, victory for the North meant the end of the Confederacy and of slavery.
“We want people to get the feeling that we played an important role in the war and the price for that was our freedom,” Smith said.
In preparation for the museum’s grand opening, Smith has been training agroup of volunteer docents who are enthusiastic and excited about being a part of such a historic museum.
“I want to get involved in this spectacular event with celebrating 150 years after the Civil War because I don’t think the 200th anniversary will be as big,” said Bryan Cheeseboro, a volunteer docent at the museum.
The new museum is located just a short distance from the old location within the Thurgood Marshall Center on 12th Street, NW, and it is easy to see Smith’s pride and passion for his new venue.
“This museum is the only place in the country where you can see this,” he said. “What I hope is that this is an overwhelming story of people who have worked hard and struggled to get their freedom.”