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National black museum draws some Columbus leaders to nation’s capital

Aflac board representatives Ben Johnson, Bob Wright and and Melvin Stith present Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, with an award at an Aflac reception held in Washington last week during Congressional Black Caucus Foundation weekend.
Aflac board representatives Ben Johnson, Bob Wright and and Melvin Stith present Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, with an award at an Aflac reception held in Washington last week during Congressional Black Caucus Foundation weekend.

When the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens today in the nation’s capital, some Columbus elected officials will be there to witness the historic occasion.

State Rep. Calvin Smyre said he will attend the dedication ceremony as a guest of Dr. Robert Wright, who served as chairman of the blue-ribbon commission charged with laying the visionary groundwork for the $540 million facility. Others at the ceremony will include Congressman Sanford Bishop and his wife, Muscogee County Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop, Smyre said.

Smyre said he attended an event at the Kennedy Center on Friday night, and took a private tour of the museum on Thursday.

“What struck me more than anything is the story of all of the unsung heroes in our nation’s history,” he said, “people who kind of moved the nation forward to where we are today, and seeing all that history was just a great opportunity and I was honored to be there.”

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Smyre said Wright’s involvement with the project makes the experience even more meaningful for him and other Columbus residents.

“I remember the day that Bob Wright called and told me that the President asked him to serve as head of the commission that led to the building of this facility,” he said. “He has been a long-time personal friend of mine. I’m here at his invitation and it’s a great honor.

“I congratulate him on contributions that he made to the fulfillment and the fruition of bringing about the museum, his early leadership and his ability to bring others on board.’”

The museum has also received significant support from Aflac, which pledged the first $1 million to the project. Last week, the company held a Washington reception as part of Congressional Black Caucus Foundation weekend, naming the museum’s founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Aflac Congressional Black Caucus Key Honoree 2016.

The awarded was presented by Wright, director emeritus on the company’s board of directors, and two other Aflac board members.

In a statement to the Ledger-Enquirer, Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos said the donation to the museum is part of the company’s commitment to diversity.

“With a workforce consisting of 44 percent minorities and 67 percent women, Aflac has a long-held commitment to diversity of thought and opportunity,” Amos said in the statement. “As I think back to 2005, being the first company to lend its support to this museum, I am comforted that our values 11 years ago were the same as they are today.

“This contribution was a great way to demonstrate our commitment to national history, our culture and the wonderful diversity that makes us a great country,” he added. “I could not be more proud of Bob and his tenacity in seeing the creation of this museum to fruition and am pleased to know that generations will benefit from the wisdom contained inside its walls.”

Oz Roberts, second vice president of event production and audio visual services, attended the Aflac reception last week and visited the museum Thursday. He saw shackles and other remnants of slavery, Jim Crow and other periods of black history.

“It made me feel good that we were able to gather all those items together for our children to see and know how things were,” he said. “It made me reflect on the sense of history that we as African Americans have been able to put forth to society.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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