Fledgling black culture museum may close soon Items may return to founder's cellar

April 04, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

The Howard County Center of African American Culture opened an exhibit last Sunday honoring prominent Howard Countians.

But don't tarry. Both the exhibit and most of the center could be heading back into Wylene Burch's basement soon.

"We're due out of here the end of next month," says Mrs. Burch, the founder, who owns about 80 percent of the center's 1,000 items. "I hate to put these things back in boxes."

The center opened in January at a storefront across from the Columbia Mall near the American Cafe. It is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Columbia Management Inc., which handles the Rouse Co.'s holdings in Columbia, gave the center a six-month lease that expires at the end of April. Mrs. Burch hopes to extend the lease for which the center pays a nominal fee.

Right now, things are up in the air.

Cathy Swartz, a Columbia Management official, said it all depends on whether the company can find a tenant who will pay full rent. None has appeared, she said. The previous tenant left about three years ago.

The center's new exhibit focuses on blacks who have contributed to Howard County during the past century.

They include:

* Natives like Mrs. Dora Mack Carter of Guilford, the first black private music teacher, who taught hundreds of children and adults in the county.

* Outsiders, like Silas Craft Sr., who came from Pennsylvania and became principal of Cooksville High School, the first for blacks here.

* Columbia-era residents like County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-District 3.

The center is part museum, part library with everything from a turn-of-the-century love seat to newspaper clippings and books. The Howard County section begins just inside the door.

Early on, visitors come upon Mrs. Carter's 1904 black and lace recital dress, speckled with silver and gold-colored beads. On a table nearby sits some of the sheet music she taught to her voice and piano students in her studio behind a roadside grocery store.

The titles reflect a distinctly religious theme. They include: "God Is Still On The Throne," "Every time I Feel The Spirit," and "God Is God."

On a wall to the right is a 1969 newspaper clipping describing the swearing in of James H. Taylor as a circuit judge in Prince George's County.

" 'This is America,' says Judge Taylor as he dons judicial robes," the headline reads.

Mrs. Burch, a retired public school teacher who lives in Columbia, founded the center in 1987. It is funded by membership dues. Mrs. Burch is trying to get some grants.

Over the years, she has mounted exhibits at Howard Community College and the Historical Society of Ellicott City. Because there is no permanent public display area, Mrs. Burch must haul most of the items back to her basement after each exhibit.

"I'm just hoping we can stay here until we find a permanent place," she said.

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