On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks the Honorable Robert L. Wilkins, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, and author of ‘Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100 Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture.’
The concept of a national museum dedicated to African American History and culture can be traced back to the second decade of the 20th century. In 1915, African American veterans of the Union Army met at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., for a reunion and parade. Frustrated with the racial discrimination they still faced, the veterans formed a committee to build a memorial to various African American achievements. Their efforts paid off in 1929, when President Herbert Hoover appointed Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune, and 10 others to a commission charged with building a ‘National Memorial Building’ showcasing African American achievements in the arts and sciences. But Congress did not back the project, and private fundraising also failed. Although proposals for an African American history and culture museum would be floated in Congress for the next 40 years, none gained more than minimal support.
In his book, Wilkins chronicles the early history in creating a monument for African American soldiers beginning fifty years after the end of the Civil War and later evolving to creating a national museum. Wilkins follows the endless obstacles through the decades, including political plots and deliberate maneuverings to block the construction of the museum, and the world events that put it at the bottom of priorities. The book is also a memoir with Wilkins actively participating role in reviving the idea of the museum, accounting the years of political roadblocks, but also the honor of becoming a member of the Presidential Commission that wrote the plan for creating it.