African American Museum opens to acclaim
Many marvel at the exhibits and artwork that the new Northwest African American Museum in Seattle offers.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Northwest African American MuseumHours: The museum will be open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. It will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Address: 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle
Admission: Free admission during opening week, March 8-16. Afterward, $4 to $6.
Parking: Available at the museum.
Source: Northwest African
She walked through a sea of people, snapping picture after picture of the artwork displayed on the walls of the new Northwest African American Museum.
"It's breathtaking," said DeCarla Estine Williams. "We always had such hope. We as a community worked so hard to make it happen."
It was a homecoming of sorts for Williams, who grew up in the Central Area neighborhood and attended Colman School, which now houses the new museum.
"It's a very special place to me," she said. "So many times I've driven past and wondered what would happen. To see it come back in a very powerful and special way gives me unspeakable joy."
Hundreds of people crowded the front of the old school Saturday to herald the opening of the museum.
"This first leg has gone on for almost 30 years," said Carver Gayton, director of the museum. "We will not end our journey until we can ensure we have an African American museum at this site in perpetuity."
It was a star-studded event, featuring Mayor Greg Nickels, King County Executive Ron Sims, Gov. Christine Gregoire, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott. They were the first to tour the museum when the doors opened.
Nickels said it was 150 years ago that Manuel Lopes became the first African American to set foot in Seattle and opened a barber shop and a restaurant. He said George Williams became the first African-American city employee, driving a horse-drawn streetcar.
McDermott reminded the crowd about the 43 black soldiers wrongly prosecuted following a riot at Fort Lawton in 1944. He is trying to get the military to pay more to the men's families.
The Army announced last October it would overturn the wrongful convictions of the 28 soldiers tried in the case and distributed checks for several hundred dollars to survivors and descendants.
The opening of the long-controversial museum was interrupted when an opponent of the museum's leadership mounted the stage before opening ceremonies and blasted the project.
"This is a disgrace," yelled Wyking Kwame Garrett as the crowd waited for the festivities to begin. "It's not what we sacrificed our lives for."
The crowd responded with boos.
"This is a scam," he continued. "We're going to fight for our community."
Police spokesman Jeff Kappel said Garrett was asked to leave several times but refused. He was arrested, taken to the East Precinct, where he was booked on suspicion of criminal trespass and obstructing, and then taken to the King County Jail.
Another protester carried an orange sign with the words "Not In Our Name."
Garrett and his father, Omari Tahir-Garrett, were among the people who occupied the former Colman School for eight years starting in 1985, demanding it be used as a black-history museum. Years later, when the school near the Interstate 90 lid was sold to the Urban League, the Garretts' group was excluded from control and planning of the museum. The disagreement resulted in a bitter split among African-American activists.
Once ceremonies got started Saturday, the Rev. Sam McKinney, former pastor of Seattle's Mount Zion Baptist Church, gave the invocation, including a nod to the museum's difficult birth.
"I want to thank all who labored and sacrificed to make this possible," he said, referring to people who occupied the building. "For eight years, they fought the wrecking ball."
Carver also acknowledged the protesters' efforts. "They had a role in improving visibility of the African American Museum. They were part of that. We can't discount it."
Hundreds streamed through the museum, pausing to marvel at the historic photographs and colorful murals.
"I'm really excited to finally come inside this building," said Rose Alokolaro, who grew up in the neighborhood. She said she has seen signs promoting the museum since 1995 and never thought it would happen. "I've been Googling it for years," she said.
"I'm so excited. It's been a long time coming," added Aimee Vaughan. "Everybody's ready for this. Carver [Gayton] took it on as a pet project and made it his."
Gayton said he is optimistic the museum can sustain itself financially. When he started work he had just $4 million. The amount has grown to $21 million, and he hinted there will be news of more money coming. He hopes to start an endowment so that the interest can be used to operate the museum.
Further, he said, the museum plans a Quincy Jones fundraiser at the Paramount Theater next Sunday. He hopes that will become an annual event.
Elijah Prescott toured the museum with his mother, Natausha. "We get to learn more about our culture," he said. "I like to learn more facts."
Added Jeinay Peeler, 8: "They've got cool art, and it makes me learn about my heritage."
"It's a very special place to me. So many times I've driven past and wondered what would happen. To see it come back in a very powerful and special way gives me unspeakable joy."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
DeCarla Estine Williams
This story, published March 9, 2008 was corrected on March 15. In the original version of this story, a visitor's name was misspelled. Her name is Aimee Vaughan, not Aimee Baughan.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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