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Chuck Hicks, director of the D.C. Black History Celebration Committee addressed participants Feb. 2 at a kickoff reception at the African American Civil War Museum to acknowledge Black History Month. (Photo by Shantella Sherman)

Because the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture won’t open on the National Mall until this September, the D.C. Black History Celebration Committee and the African American Civil War Museum kicked off a city-wide celebration of Black History Month with a reception Feb. 2 at the Civil War Museum on U Street in Northwest. The area is a showcase for the growth and prosperity of the city’s Black population.

“It is monumental to think that just a few years ago, many of the same people in this room today, were trying to convince the nation of the value in having an African-American history museum and now, it stands just minutes away,” Toya Harvey, a Howard University grad student told the AFRO.  “Even as we celebrate the vibrant history of our ancestors, we are making history for generations to come.”

The event included political figures, historians and D.C. residents.

Tristan Breaux, district director for Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), offered remarks of encouragement for the museum on behalf of Norton, who was unable to attend in person. Breaux said Black history was a rich heritage, emphasizing that the celebration of Black History Month needed to reach all races, and all ages.

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An artifact from the Civil War that is displayed at the African American Civil War Museum. (Photo by Shantella Sherman)

“As you can imagine, with the new African American History Museum opening down on the Mall, we are excited, but this (Civil War Museum) will always be our favorite,” Breaux said.  “Congresswoman Norton is honored to acknowledge the rich history and the people who have made this city great.”

African-American Civil War Museum Director Frank Smith, served as the event’s keynote speaker, and echoed many of Harvey’s sentiments. Smith told the AFRO that too often the day-to-day struggles of Black life have been hidden behind the push to survive or get along, with memories of a painful past in plain view.

“This city is full of museums that celebrate the lives and accomplishments of people who do not look like us.  In fact, there are roads and streets, including Jefferson Davis Highway leading out of D.C. and into Virginia that some folks travel every day unaware that these spaces celebrate the lives of our oppressors,” Smith said.  “With Black History Month this year, as we move towards opening the African-American History Museum, I am excited that as Black people, we will be able to honor those in their heritage that have helped build this nation and this city.  We will soon have a space that publicly celebrates us.”

Marvin Wright, who joined the kickoff with his two-year-old son, said he came to support as many Black history-related programs as possible because he feared the nation was turning back its clock on racial tolerance – a move he believed would eventually push Black history from the nation’s consciousness.

“There is so much passive aggressive bigotry and racial hostility in this country that it makes me take pause,” Wright, a former Arizona Razorback football player told the AFRO.  “When I look at places like Arizona eliminating successful ethnic studies programs because they made White students feel bad, or refusing to acknowledge Dr. King’s birthday, you can only pray that whitewashing does not spread.”