The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 Monday to set aside $450,000 for a proposed African-American museum that would spotlight black history in the county and Fayetteville community.
The money would cover half of the cost for the initial phase of the proposed museum, which would operate from the downtown district.
“It’s extremely important to put together – creating a very detailed plan – in terms of ensuring that we’ve worked with the key figures of the community, making sure that we, again, do our work due diligence and are moving forward on this project collectively (with) compelling stories to make it a very unique project ... And bring that into the museum while becoming a national leader,” said Dr. Dauv Evans, the associate director for the planned museum.
Sir David Adjaye has been selected to design the building. Adjaye is known for, among other projects, designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
“It hasn’t really been done before, doing something along these lines,” Evans told the Board of Commissioners. “It definitely brings a positive spotlight on this community. And of course, after the end of this particular first phase, (we'll) bring conceptual designs of what this project will absolutely look like.”
The story of Fayetteville’s black community will be told through reference, Evans said. “This is a unique opportunity we have to tell black history with Fayetteville out front,” he added.
The city of Fayetteville is expected to receive a similar presentation during a work session on May 2, with the possibility of the City Council providing the other half of the anticipated full phase one cost of $895,000.
Commissioner Jimmy Keefe cast the lone opposing vote after saying he would rather see an African-American history museum that focused on notable black military leaders and pioneering African-American soldiers and Medal of Honor recipients since the building would function in Fort Bragg’s backyard.
“My biggest question is the process,” Keefe told museum presenters Evans, William Cassell and Robert Van Geons, the president and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corp.
Commissioner Charles Evans, who was attending the meeting remotely, said he was “so disappointed” when Keefe asked Cassell roughly how many African-American museums there are in the United States.
“Forty or 50,” Cassell replied.
“My heart is hurting,” Charles Evans said later, regarding Keefe’s question. “That disappointed me. I’m so disappointed.”
In his defense, Keefe said the Monday presentation was “the first time he had seen this.” He noted how he was a white man talking about a black history museum, but as an elected official, he felt like he had to ask questions about the proposed project.
“I’ve been a commissioner for 13 years, and I wasn’t even aware this was in the pipeline,” Keefe said. “I guess my biggest problem with the process is, this came before us at an agenda session which was really just one working day before today – because we had the Easter weekend.
“This is kind of fast-tracking a half-million dollars of public taxpayers’ funding on speculation,” Keefe said.
Van Geons said what was brought forward was the initial concept, and he referred to the presentation as an introductory “conversation.”
“We are bringing it forward to county, to the city. Saying this is what it will take to do something like this,” he said. “This will be a conversation and a museum … that expands well beyond that to cover the broad spectrum of the quest for equality and justice.”
The proposed museum would connect with the repurposed downtown Market House, the historic downtown, existing memorial projects and corridor projects such as that planned for the Murchison Road district, according to Dauv Evans.
The history, as proposed, would range from pioneering black author Charles Chesnutt, who lived in Fayetteville, to hip-hop rapper J. Cole, who grew up in the city.
The museum would incorporate history with African-American voice, authors, theater, and music and spoken word, Dauv Evans said.
“The museum is key,” he said. “It tells a valuable story.”
“I love this idea,” Commissioner Jeanette Council said. “First thing I think about are the schoolchildren part of the process. But usually we have more information when we make a motion like that – of that magnitude. I would move that we set aside $450,000 for the proposed African-American museum in Cumberland County."
Keefe said he would support the project but he felt like "subjecting $900,000 to a presentation that we just had one day ago, one working day ago, it’s too fast. I would love to see the military component in that.”
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.