WASHINGTON – It’s not even built yet, but the National Museum of African American History and Culture received its first artifacts on Sunday morning.
Two large pieces of history found their permanent home on the construction site where the museum will be completed — an 80-foot long segregated railcar that was built in 1922 by the Coleman Manufacturing Co. and a 21-foot-tall cast concrete Angola Prison Tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
They will be the centerpieces of the inaugural exhibit about the era of segregation when the museum opens in 2015.
Spencer Crew, curator for the museum, says the historical objects will help to tell the story of the challenges blacks faced after slavery.
“The train car is important because segregation on transportation is a long standing challenge that African Americans face … Many of the symbols of segregation, like the water fountains and the separate restrooms, are gone, but the segregated train cars are a very visual way for the public to understand how segregation operated — separate parts of the same car but with the African American section having fewer amenities,” he said.
The Angola Prison Tower comes from the oldest part of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Camp A, which The New York Times reports, “Many remember it as having once been one of the most brutal and corrupt institutions in the post-Civil War South, the nearest kin to slavery that could legally exist.”
Carlos Bustamante, project manager for the museum, said these iconic objects are so large that it would be impossible to move them inside the museum once the building is completed.
So after years of planning, the construction team loaded the artifacts into their final resting place and the museum will be built around them, “entombing them forever.”
A pair of mobile cranes that shut down Constitution Avenue and 15th Street NW for several hours Sunday morning made the special deliveries possible.
“These are monster cranes — 550 tons each. They will be lifting these two objects into the north end of our site,” Bustamante said.
The museum is being constructed on the last available space on the National Mall. It also will serve as a venue for ceremonies and performances.
The railcar arrives in D.C.:
The prison tower arrives:
Here’s what the Smithsonian has planned for the musuem: