A bigger, better Banneker-Douglass Museum opens

PICTURE THIS

Anne Arundel County through the eyes of Sun photographers

March 01, 2006

Black History Month may be over, but visitors to Annapolis can now learn about the region's rich African-American heritage year-round with the opening this week of the expanded Banneker-Douglass Museum.

About 200 people gathered Monday as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. cut the ribbon to mark the end of a $5.5 million renovation and expansion funded by the state.

Inside the historic church sanctuary on Franklin Street, which houses the original museum, classical musician Cheryl Nkeba played a Bach partita bassoon solo and led the audience in singing a slave spiritual.

After a walk-through of the museum's first permanent exhibit on the black experience, spanning three centuries in the state, Ehrlich said, "It's small, not overwhelming, but substantive. I like that it's Maryland-centric. The museum does make the case that Maryland has the richest African-American history."

Ehrlich said he hoped the museum would become a destination for tourists as a stop for "part of a day." Many at the opening said they had a personal connection to the block where the museum and expanded county courthouse stand on Franklin Street, once home to a thriving African-American community.

Philip L. and Rachel H. Brown, retired schoolteachers in their 90s, sat in the new space's atrium Monday. "We were married in this church's parsonage 73 years ago," Rachel Brown said.

Downstairs in the new space, Annapolis Underground, a collection of artifacts of African-American family life dug up on the block, emphasizes names, faces, voices and memories. Three young archaeologists who worked on the decadelong project - Eric Larsen, Amelia Chisholm and Matthew Palus - said it's rare to find such "contextualization" of cultural bits and pieces, such as the recovered plates, ceramics and pitchers presented next to a kitchen cabinet.

"This is a tremendous story to tell," Audrey Scott, the state secretary of planning, said. "The welcome mat is out. We do not want to be the city's best-kept secret."

Jamie Stiehm

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