Savage is second director fired from black museum in Annapolis in two years

Foundation members fear Banneker-Douglas facility will be closed by state

May 11, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

For the second time in two years, the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis is without permanent leadership, reigniting worries among museum supporters about the future of its collection documenting African-American history in Maryland.

Last week, state officials fired Rosalind D. Savage, the museum's executive director for the past nine months.

"It's the destruction of the museum," said Errol E. Brown Sr., president of the Banneker-Douglass Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the museum. "Why else would you fire two executive directors in two years? They didn't steal anything or embezzle. Somebody's got to take a close look at this."

The Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, which oversees the museum, fired Savage exactly two years after they fired her predecessor, Ronald L. Sharps, who had run the museum for 4 1/2 years.

"You have a complete duplication of what took place before," Brown said.

Foundation members said Sharps' firing was the first step toward closing the museum and moving its collections to a $19 million black history museum proposed for Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But the controversy subsided after Gov. Parris N. Glendening assured museum supporters of his commitment to the facility.

Carroll Hynson Jr., chairman of the Maryland Commission for African American Culture, emphatically denies that Savage's firing is linked to plans to close the museum.

"We're very happy about the museum in Baltimore, but at the same time we have our museum in Annapolis and it's going to stay," Hynson said. "I just want to make that clear."

Foundation members are not convinced.

"We don't know where this is going," said Yevola Peters, chairperson of the foundation's membership's committee. "It leads us to believe the museum could be in danger."

The 15-year-old museum in the building that housed the congregation of Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, holds artifacts and items that once belonged to scientist Benjamin Banneker, writer-abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other famous blacks. Hynson said the museum will receive $600,000 in funding next fiscal year.

Savage said yesterday that she was told Friday by commission member Lucenia Dunn of the group's decision to fire her. She said the commission did not give her a reason for its action.

"I just think it's odd that two directors in less than two years are fired," Savage said. "Are you supposed to surmise we were both incompetent? It sends out a message of instability."

Hynson said Savage's firing was related to the commission's work over the past year to develop a strategic plan to strengthen the programs it manages but that he could not discuss details because it is a personnel issue. He said an emergency interim director will be named today.

The museum on Franklin Street in Annapolis' Historic District is "not about any individual," Hynson said.

"The bottom line is we need to move the museum forward and make it an attractive and competitive historical location in Annapolis and that is our main goal."

Savage said that the commission had criticized her communication with the group, but foundation members praised her performance in the job.

"One of the things that impressed me about her was that she did reach out to the community and invited different groups into the museum," Peters said of Savage. "She worked very well with museum supporters."

Said Brown: "That poor girl has been busting her chops. She has done some marvelous things at the museum."

Pub Date: 5/11/99

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