This church gave $1 million to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture

Posted October 6, 2016

Amid the media coverage surrounding the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Saturday is an intriguing story about a Virginia church that came together to give $1 million to the institution.

The Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, senior pastor at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, told CBS News that his church first became involved in the fundraising effort after the Smithsonian approached the house of worship.

According to the Rev. Wesley, those behind the museum were looking for a faith-based organization to help lead the way as a founding donor, so he and other church leaders considered the proposal — and brought it to the church congregation.

"We spoke to leadership about it, prayed about it, we believed it was the right thing to do," he said. "(We) went to the membership and with unanimous approval they said they wanted to be a part of it and that they would support launching out to be the first — and turned out to be the only — faith-based institution to give a million dollars."

The Rev. Wesley said the effort brought together congregants both young and old who gave a wide range of donations — from $1.50 up to $20,000 — to help see the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., come to fruition.

The pastor shared a "heartwarming" story in which a little boy in the church came up after service one day and handed church leaders an envelope with $2 in it, asking whether the donation would "help the museum open up."

The Rev. Wesley said the response showed him the importance that the museum has to so many African-Americans, with those who lived through segregation, among other social ills impacting the black community, seeing its creation as an incredible development and a positive step forward.

"(It) symbolizes all of the contributions, the culture and the crisis of black America," the Rev. Wesley said, according to NBC News. "It's a beautiful thing, especially in this day and time when we're fighting to remind ourselves how important black lives are."

Alfred Street Baptist Church's $1 million donation was reported by The Christian Post back in January, with the Rev. Wesley saying at the time that the church — which was founded in 1803 — believes it has a responsibility to help educate the public about African-American history.

"We realize that if we don't tell and preserve our own history, future generations of African-Americans will never know their real value," he told The Christian Post.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on Saturday, with President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush — who signed legislation in 2003 that greenlit the project — in attendance for the momentous occasion, The Associated Press reported.

"This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are. It helps us better understand the lives, yes, of the president, but also the slave," Obama said during the opening event. "The industrialist, but also the porter; the keeper of the status quo, but also of the activist seeking to overthrow that status quo; the teacher or the cook, alongside the statesman."

He continued, "And by knowing this other story, we better understand ourselves and each other."

The 400,000-square-foot facility has nearly 3,000 items inside, and is the Smithsonian's 19th museum. Find out more about the museum, which will offer "documentation of African American life, history, and culture" here.

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