Smithsonian Director to Head Underground Railroad Center
Spencer R. Crew, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for the past nine years, is ready to face the next phase of his career. He will be leaving the Smithsonian next month to become executive director and chief executive officer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
Crew, who began his Smithsonian career as an historian in 1981, has led the country’s largest history museum since 1992 when he was named acting director. He was officially appointed director in 1994. Crew played a major role in developing the museum’s major permanent exhibition, “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden,” which opened last year, and in overseeing the ongoing conservation of the Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the national anthem.
The decision to leave the Smithsonian was a difficult one, says Crew.
“I’ve spent two decades at the Museum of American History, and leaving the Smithsonian is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made,” he says.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a national educational center scheduled to open in 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River. As head of the institution, Crew will be returning to his home state of Ohio. The position will also allow him to focus on African American history, his academic specialty and a subject he taught at the University of Maryland Baltimore County before joining the Smithsonian.
“The focus of the Freedom Center is very exciting one,” says Crew. “It uses the stories of the Underground Railroad to create an understanding not only about the past but what our values of freedom, justice and equality mean today. I’m excited about the challenge and I look forward to making the center a place where people can talk about the need for collaboration and cooperation in a free society.”
Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small says that although the institution is sorry to see him go, the Freedom Center “will greatly benefit from his skills.”
“As a scholar, curator and administrator, Crew has worked tirelessly for the Smithsonian for 20 years. His many talents and creative leadership have greatly enhanced our ability to vividly present to the public the struggles and successes of our country’s history,” says Small.
Under Crew’s tenure, the museum’s attendance rose from 5.6 million in 1992 to almost 6.5 million in 2000. The museum also received three of its largest gifts on Crew’s watch and acquired many important objects under his watch, including a section of the Greensboro, N.C., Woolworth lunch counter that was the site of the 1960 student sit-in movement.
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