By Isaiah Glenn
WASHINGTON – The African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum is planning for its grand opening this summer now that it’s in a new building, and the founder Frank Smith wants visitors to feel the magnitude of the war.
Plaques of African-American soldiers are displayed in the museum as well as a register called the Book of Names.
“I hope the Book of Names will inspire people to go through there and look for their family name and go check back with their family,” Smith said, “and when they get the story straight, bring it back here to us.”
Every first Saturday, a descendant of a soldier who fought in the Civil War will share their family’s story in the museum’s auditorium. The museum will record the session for its own records, and make it available to visitors along with supporting documents, Smith said.
“We want people to get that feeling that we played an important role in the war and the price for that was our freedom,” Smith said.
Smith said he plans to display artifacts that are donated to the museum.
The African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum is the only national memorial to Colored Troops in the Civil War.
Located on historic U Street, it displays the meaning of the Civil War to America . About two blocks away is the memorial called The Spirit of Freedom, a 10-foot sculpture of armed soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder in a circle. It features uniformed black soldiers and a sailor.
The sculpture is surrounded by a Wall of Honor, a memorial listing the names of 209,145 United States Colored Troops who served in the Civil War.
If the North did not win the Civil War, which started 150 years ago this year, America would not be what it is today, Smith said during an interview with student journalists.
Smith emphasized the importance of people knowing that African-Americans were not bystanders in the war.
“Most people who thought that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves thought (African-Americans) were just sitting under the shade trees eating watermelon and did nothing to help themselves,” Smith said. “The reality is that black people had to take up arms.”
Smith likens his museum to a book on the Civil War.
“Every story has a beginning and an end,” Smith said. “This museum is the exclamation point.”