John Kinard's deep, gravelly voice was building. He had embarked on a subject he at first refused to discuss, but now there was no turning back.
"We are at a crossroads," the director of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum said. "We must grow out of our present facility."
He is in the midst of a conflict with the Smithsonian Institution over the future of the museum. Kinard would like to see the tiny, 13-year-old museum grow from experimental status into a sophisticated museum of Afro-American history. He realizes it is an ambitious order.
"We now must expand our operation," he continues. "We must begin putting the black man in the context of his history."
Arguing the need for an Afro-American history museum, Kinard said there are few museums in the country collecting material and conducting research on black Americans.
He forwarded his proposal to the Smithsonian Institution, which funds the museum.
Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, in turn, set up a five-member commission of museum experts to study the museum's future. The commission returned its opinion last summer.
Kinard is not pleased with the results.
The experts said the small neighborhood facility should not become a museum of Afro-American history as Kinard proposes.
In fact, the experts said, the Anacostia museum, at 2405 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, should remain an experimental facility for neighboring residents who do not ordinarily visit downtown mall exhibits.
Michael R. Winston, director of Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and chairman of the commission, wrote in the majority report that the Anacostia facility and its staff were not capable of operating a museum of Afro-American history.
Noting that the museum is in "limbo" because it no longer focuses on community-oriented programs, Winston said the museum suffers from a lack of contact with Smithsonian scholars.
Although he noted that it is unfair to compare the small community museum with "the nation's best publicly supported museums, he said the standard must be kept in mind of the Anacostia museum were to shift to a more traditional museum role. By that standard, he said, the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum is disappointing.
"While there was no attempt to probe for the basic causes of the situation, there is little doubt that intellectual and professional isolation is one of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum's major problems," the report said.
"It is perhaps most strikingly apparent in the areas for which the Smithsonian has earned a well deserved international reputation -- research, conservation, and curatorial expertise.
"These strengths are not evident at the Anacostia Neighborhood museum as earnest and ambitious as the staff may be."
Kinard, 42, who holds a bachelor's degree in history and sociology from Livington College in North Carolina and was a program analyst for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity before joining the museum as its first director, is furious about the report.
"They only spent two hours out here talking to me. They could not have possibly seen all we have done.
"How can you compare us to Smithsonian museums that have been around for more than 100 years?"
Arguing that his small museum has produced valuable exhibits, with its 20-member staff and annual budget of $600,000, Kinard called the author of the report an "elitist."
"He does not believe anything good can come out of Anacostia," Kinard said of Winston.
Winston, who would not comment on the report, said his background and work at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center speaks for itself.
Not all of those who served on the commission, however, agreed with the report.
Edmund B. Gaither, director of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Inc., in Boston called the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum the "beacon of black museums" because of its stable funding and the exhibits and research it has produced.
In a dissenting report, he said the Smithsonian Institution has neglected to include many black contributions in its exhibits. There is no reason to believe the Smithsonian is planning to change this practice, he added. As a result, the Anacostia museum should be given funding to record the contributions of blacks in history, he said.
"The Anacostia museum," Gaither said in an interview, "must be given the opportunity to become a peer with other major museums. If this is done the museum can make statements about the role of blacks in history and press for fair black representation in major museum exhibits."
Ripley, who refused an interview, will make the final decision on the museum's future. It could be months before it is made.
Kinard admits that the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, which has only one floor of exhibit space, has not enjoyed booming attendance. Most of the museum's 70,000 annual visitors are students bused from local schools, he said. It does not attract many visitors from outside the neighborhood, he said.
The museum, which has put on exhibits ranging from the contributions of Frederick Douglass to exhibitions on crime, unemployment and rats, has made mistakes in the past, Kinard said.
"We have learned from our mistakes," he added, "and we are now much more sophisticated."