Future center would honor black history

February 19, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ


Andy Smith's vision is a black history museum and library, a gift shop, a community television studio, a banquet room, a kitchen and minority affairs offices - all in one building.

He has his eye on the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from the current larger plant.

The building's owner, Bill Kauffman, said Smith asked him about the building last week and they discussed it briefly.

Smith, the president of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, a black advocacy group, has been thinking about his plan, or parts of it, for about two years and now is promoting it.

"The Black History & Multicultural Center increases tourism in the Hagerstown/Washington County area," he wrote in introducing an outline for his plan. "The Center will revitalize the historical Jonathan Street neighborhood. The Black History & Multicultural Center will give the predominantly black inner-city neighborhood something to offer the rest of our area."


Smith has pushed Hagerstown's city government to either provide public access on its existing cable television channel or activate another channel that it could use, but doesn't. He helped create a nonprofit group, Hagerstown Public Access Corp., that has offered to run the unused channel.

He wants the Pennsylvania Avenue building to be part of his plan.

"I realized the potential of not only having the TV studio (there), but also having our library, which is inaccessible," Smith said. He was referring to about 500 books Brothers United Who Dare to Care has in its office in the Martin Luther King Center on West North Avenue.

Smith guessed that buying a building, renovating it and creating the center he has imagined might cost about $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

He expects to raise the startup operating costs on his own and through a Washington, D.C., consulting business in which he is a partner.

He also hopes state government will help with the project, perhaps with the building acquisition cost.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he supports creating a black history museum, the component of the project that he and Smith have discussed informally.

"My fear is much of the black history of Washington County will be taken out of Washington County," Munson said.

Marguerite Doleman, who died in 2000, was well known in Hagerstown for the black history artifacts she compiled and turned into a museum at her Locust Street home.

A message on the home answering machine last week said that the museum again is closed for repairs and is expected to open in the spring.

Munson said there could be money in the governor's budget for a black history museum. Or, he said, one could be funded, as a nonprofit organization, through what's known as a "bond bill" in the governor's capital budget.

"There would have to be a very significant effort from the local community ..." Munson said. "It would have to be a viable project and would last a long time."

Ladetra Robinson, one of a handful of people helping Smith with his plan, said she likes the idea of ensuring black history will be passed to future generations.

"The schools can do tours, during Black History Month, of the multicultural center ..." she said. "The multicultural center, as a whole, would be interesting to a lot of children."

Smith's outline says the multicultural center would have a minority affairs office for black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American issues, such as health, education, jobs, housing, home ownership and business ownership.

The black history museum would have private collections, plus a gift shop.

The black heritage library would have a resource room with computers.

The community could use the TV studio, regardless of whether the public access channel proposal takes off.

A kitchen with an indoor and outdoor caf would be used for ethnic food programs, festivals and bake sales.

A conference and banquet room would be available for sit-down events and would have a stage for performances.

A brochure on the black history and multicultural center says it would be available for neighborhood and social events, such as birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs.

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