"I'm glad to see these things come out of the closet after such a long time," said Dorothy B. Porter, smiling as she looked out over the 150 people attending the dedication of the Howard University Museum on Saturday.
"I collected many of these artifacts when they were cheaper. Now some of them would cost a fortune."
Some of the items to which Porter, curator emeritus of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, referred included Frederick Douglass' pocket watch, sculpture by Edmonia Lewis (the first major black American sculptor) and rare books by surveyor-writer Benjamin Banneker and poet Phyllis Wheatley.
The museum, a small, two-part gallery, is located in the east wing of Founder's Library, in the Dorothy B. Porter Room (named to honor her 40plus years as curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection).
Acting Curator Thomas C. Battle said the museum always will have on display items of university memorabilia and other African or African-American material.
On current exhibit are photographs of the university in its formative years of the 1860s and 1870s, a sword, walking stick and other personal belongings of founder Gen. Oliver O. Howard, two corners of Frederick Douglass memorabilia (he was an early trustee) and photographs and letters of the John Cook family (slave descendants who achieved educational and civic distinction in the District).
Also on display are a Baule mask from the Ivory Coast, Kente cloth from Ghana, an Ife Janus sculptured head from Nigeria, Gio anklets and bracelets from Liberia and trading beads from several West African countries.
The museum's purpose, said Michael Winston, director of the Moorland-Spingarn Center, is to "preserve a heritage, to make it possible to transmit from one generation to another something of enduring value."
After giving the 67-year history of the idea for the museum, Lorraine A. Williams, university vice president for academic affairs, said the gallery had two tasks: to bring together materials that tell of the achievements of blacks and "to stimulate the intellectual curiosity of the contemporary student."
The idea for the museum, said Williams, originated with Dean Kelly Miller in 1912 when he proposed a "Negro-Americana Museum and Library," The library was started in 1914 when Dr. Jesse Moorland donated his large collection of Afro-American books to the university.
But the museum took longer to establish. In 1934, a study committee was appointed to conceptualize a museum. On this committee were Rayford W. Logan, chairman emeritus of the museum is a fruition of an endeavor of a long period of time and its impact should produce a positive effect on the U.S; Africa and the rest of the world."
The museum will be open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m; Monday through Friday.