Tom Mack won't like it that the first words in this column are his name.
"I don't want Tom Mack out front," he says. "I would like the emphasis on the idea."
The idea, as a number of congressmen, entertainers, professional athletes and business leaders know, is for a world-class black history museum on the Mall, a project for which Mack proposes to raise upwards of $25 million.
What Mack really has in mind are two institutes in one: a museum and archives "covering the scope of the Afro-American heritage -- history, artifacts, memorabilia" in one section and an institute on economic development in the other.
"You can never reach your potential as a people until you understand your past," the 55-year-old entrepreneur says in explanation of the odd combination of institutions, "and you cannot be successful without controlling your own economic destiny."
Mack expects success. A native of Linden, Tex., he moved to California, where in 1965 he went to work as a tour guide for Universal Studios. He quickly worked his way into management, and when Universal acquired Tourmobile Sightseeing in 1969, he was transferred to Washington as general manager.
A dozen years later, he had bought Tourmobile, now a familiar sight to visitors to monumental Washington. His success with that enterprise, which he now values at well over the $3 million it was worth in 1981, gives him the time and resources to pursue his dream.
Already he has formed the National Council for Education and Economic Development, Inc. (P.O. Box 70617, Washington, D.C., 20024) and gained the backing of area universities and a string of famous athletes, entertainers and civic leaders. He has also managed a joint congressional resolution in support of the museum in "a permanent location . . . within the National Park System, or on other federal lands."
To Mack, that means the site between the Air and Space Museum and the Botanic Gardens, "the one really suitable place on the Mall."
He based his cost estimate on what he said was the $25 million tab of the Holocaust museum. Actually, the Holocaust museum will cost at least twice that amount, and its fund raisers have set a goal of $100 million. "I have had people tell me that blacks have never put together anything the size and scope of what I have in mind," he said. "I remind them that this is not a black issue alone. If there was a slave, there was a slave owner. Slavery was an American institution, and the museum should be an American undertaking."
Mack doesn't underestimate the problems he must overcome if his idea is to succeed. The first obstacle is to move from the general, practically automatic, endorsement of those with whom he broaches the idea to the specifics of a major fund-raising. Right now, everything seems to hinge on something else: people who will lend their names and influence once things get going; potential contributors who will help things get going once they are persuaded the idea can succeed.
The second obstacle is that long after Mack fixed on the Mall site, but before he moved to nail it down, the regents of the Smithsonian Institution voted to acquire New York's Museum of the American Indian and relocate it to the site between the Air and Space Museum and the Botanic Gardens.
Mack shudders at the notion of blacks and American Indians fighting each other over the location and says he is prepared to work out some means of sharing the site. There may also be some difficulty in working out the union of a museum and an economic-development institute, though Mack sees the latter as so vital that he would consider abandoning the whole idea without it.
I'm not sure I'd agree with that. Certainly both ideas are worth pursuing: one focusing on the history of blacks in this country, the other a practical aid for improving their future. But the economic-development aspect could just as well be housed in an existing institution, perhaps a university or the headquarters of the National Business League, and it wouldn't have to be in Washington.
The museum, on the other hand, could be an important national monument. And as such, it belongs in Washington, and it belongs on the Mall.