Interim director to head museum

Banneker-Douglass proponents protest former head's firing

May 12, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture named an "emergency" interim director of the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis yesterday amid continued protests over the firing of the former director.

In another major personnel change, Joseph Johnson, the museum's deputy director for the past four years, was reassigned to a position in the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which shares oversight of the museum with the commission.

Tonya Hardy, who has no experience in museum administration, was appointed the museum's temporary director. She most recently worked as a program manager for the Baltimore public schools before going on maternity leave last year, said commission Chairman Carroll Hynson Jr. Before that, she worked for the Baltimore Urban League.

Hynson said he expects Hardy to serve for three or four months while the commission completes a national search for an executive director to replace Rosalind D. Savage, whom the commission fired last week.

"We didn't want a gap here," said Hynson. "We wanted to keep this museum moving forward."

Erroll E. Brown Sr., president of the Banneker-Douglass Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the museum, said the administrative shake-up is a big step backward for the facility, the state's official repository of artifacts related to black history and culture.

"Now you're looking at a two-year setback," Brown said. "Whoever comes in is not going to know the operation of the museum."

Commission members and state officials say Hardy's lack of museum work is irrelevant because she is being hired as an administrator.

"There are several persons on the staff who have been there for a number of years," said Rodney Little, director of the state's Division of Historical and Cultural Programs.

"The ones with museum expertise are the ones that are still here."

Hynson said he could not discuss Savage's firing except to say it was related to the commission's work over the past year to develop a plan to strengthen the programs it manages.

Her dismissal, after nine months in the position, has re-ignited worries among foundation members and other museum supporters about the future of the museum. Two years ago, when the commission fired Savage's predecessor, Ronald L. Sharps, foundation members said the move was part of a larger effort to close the museum and possibly move its collections to a $19 million black history museum proposed for Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Yesterday morning, more than a dozen museum supporters gathered at the Franklin Street facility to demand answers from commission members and to make sure that the museum opened.

While commission members met privately with Hardy, supporters formed a prayer circle in the entrance of the museum, housed in the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"I used to come here as a little girl, and I still respect this as a place where black people can come and worship God and respect community," said 67-year-old Teresa Calvin of Eastport, president of the Herbert M. Frisby Historical Society, dedicated to the African-American Arctic explorer and educator.

"There are relics here from 22 Frisby expeditions to the North Pole, and we'd like to see it stay here," Calvin said.

Michelle Wright, chief of staff for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, tried to answer questions about Savage's firing, but the group was not satisfied with her statement that the "synergy" between Savage, the department and the commission wasn't right.

Louis C. Fields, executive director of the African-American Tourism Council, summed up the group's frustration: "We felt Dr. Sharps was doing a good job and he's fired; we felt Ms. Savage was doing a good job, and she's fired. Is it to prevent the museum from growing and becoming an even stronger cultural institution in Maryland?"

Commission and state officials said yesterday that the 15-year-old museum will remain open. Hynson pointed out that the museum will receive $600,000 in state funding next fiscal year, and that design work has begun for a $3.8 million expansion planned for 2001.

"Why would the state put up a building and spend millions of dollars if they were going to close down a project?" he said. "I believe a small group of individuals are saying this because they're upset over our decision to make a management change."

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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