“This community has a rich culture, and what we are trying to show is that what happens here is not unique,” Akeju said. “Issues of poverty, unemployment, isolation ... they don’t have a color line. You find this throughout the world.”
This sort of mission reflects what King believed in, Akeju said.
“His was not only an American phenomenon,” she said. “His appeal was universal because he spoke of universal problems.”
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
African American Civil War Memorial and Museum
“U Street-African American Civil War Memorial-Cardoza,” the Metro train operator rattles on. When people hop off at this stop on the green and yellow lines, it’s often to visit any number of bars and restaurants along the U Street corridor.
But nestled next to the escalator on the 10th and U streets Northwest exit is the second part of this Metro stop’s name.
Frank Smith was first inspired by the story of African-American soldiers in the Civil War while he was a civil rights worker in Mississippi in the 1960s. He learned that more than 200,000 black soldiers died fighting for the Union and, in his view, for the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.
As a D.C. councilmember decades later, Smith spearheaded the project for a memorial dedicated to these soldiers in an attempt to revitalize the U Street area, which he represented.
With the unveiling of the statue “The Spirit of Freedom” in 1998 and the opening of the museum in 1999, the site soon became a “living memorial,” Smith said. Descendants of the soldiers whose names are listed on the statue now come to the museum to provide it with more artifacts and documents for its collection.
The memorial became a part of the NPS in 2004. This past summer, the museum relocated to a building directly across from the statue, receiving a 5,000-square-foot expansion.
For Smith, the memorial and museum represent the beginning of the civil rights movement in which he took part. “If they hadn’t fought, there’s no telling what would have happened,” he said. “There would have been no foundation for the civil rights movement a hundred years later.”
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.