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House Passes Bill to Create Black History, Culture Museum

House Passes Bill to Create Black History, Culture MuseumThe House voted overwhelmingly last month to establish a national museum of Black history and culture, pushing the plan a step closer to reality after 15 years of efforts by veteran civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. Lewis has introduced legislation every year in Congress since 1988 to create the museum. Every session, for one reason or another, the measure has failed in the House or Senate.But the House passed by a 409-9 vote a bill to establish a museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution. The Senate passed similar legislation in June and Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would encourage President Bush to sign it this year.“It’s a very significant step down a very, very long road,” Lewis said. “The African American story must be told, and a national African American museum in Washington, D.C., is critical to that story,” he said in a floor speech.The museum will study, collect and feature exhibits on slavery, reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement and the African American Diaspora. The bill calls for the museum to work with historically Black colleges and universities, historical societies, educational institutions and other organizations that promote the study of African American life, art, history or culture.The bill also calls for the museum to establish scholarships to assist individuals pursuing a career in the study of African American life, art, history and culture; for the establishment of a grant program in cooperation with other museums, historical societies and educational institutions for the study of modern-day practices of slavery throughout the world; and for the funding of educational programming at an African American museum or a nonprofit that promotes the study of the African American Diaspora.The estimated $400 million initial price tag would be split evenly between the federal government and private sources. The bill authorizes $17 million in the first year to start the project.The bill, if signed into law, would clear the way for fund raising and for the Smithsonian board of regents to choose a site within a year.“It’s going to be fantastic,” said Frist.Though legislation passed the Senate by voice vote with little debate, the House held a hearing in July to air grievances over some proposed museum locations.A commission set up by President Bush in 2001 to study a National Museum of African American History and Culture recommended in its April report a site on the Capitol grounds across from the Botanical Gardens.
That recommendation, along with three others, made it into Senate legislation but was rejected in the House version, in part because some lawmakers thought it would set a precedent for other non-congressional structures on the Capitol grounds.Capitol Police also objected to the potential security burden of a museum under their watch.The sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he hopes the Smithsonian will pick a prominent space on the National Mall.Proposed sites are the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building, an area near the Washington Monument, an area closer to the Jefferson Memorial and a waterfront site a few blocks south of the Mall.

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