Wax museum of blacks unveils Powell's likeness

December 18, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been immortalized in East Baltimore.

The Great Blacks in Wax Museum, the nation's first African-American wax museum, unveiled yesterday a life-sized likeness of the four-star general during a ceremony attended by Powell, his wife, Alma, and other dignitaries, including Maryland's U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"This honor has touched me deeply," said Powell, who toured the museum with his wife before the ceremony. "I am able to be added to the Great Blacks in Wax Museum because of the sacrifice and suffering of every one of the people whose likeness is in that museum. This is not only African-American history -- it's American history."

Powell, 59, praised the work of Joanne and Elmer Martin, who opened the museum in 1983 to educate young blacks about their history. He promised to return with his grandsons.

The heritage of Maryland's African-American population, which totaled 1.2 million in the 1990 census, is rich and varied, dating back to the Colonial era and slavery, said Liz Byrd, spokeswoman for the museum.

"The museum details our history from ancient Africa to the civil rights movement and beyond," she said. "It shows how our people have survived and achieved."

Powell's induction into the museum comes three years after he retired from a 35-year military career during which he became the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Powell was the son of struggling Jamaican immigrants. As the nation's top military officer, he became well known to the American public during the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf.

To craft the statue, Powell's likeness was captured by dozens of artists who have been at work since June, using photos provided by the general, Byrd said. The likeness will join more than 150 other figures featured at the museum, including Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela.

Powell's figure, which cost about $8,000, will be installed in the museum tomorrow. It was commissioned by The Baltimore Times, a weekly black newspaper, and Chrysler Corp., which presented a $25,000 check to help fund the museum's $10 million expansion.

The museum plans to build a section on the history of blacks in the military, Byrd said. The Powell figure will be moved to the planned Gallery of War, Conquest and Valor when it is completed.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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