Black Archives to expand

The Black Archives Research Center and Museum broke ground to bring history out of the boxes.

“Today is a red letter day for the history of Florida A&M University,” said FAMU Board of Trustees member James Corbin to about 100 people who attended the ceremony.

James Eaton, who used historical memorabilia from his own family to create the museum’s first exhibits in 1976, said the project was a dream come true.

“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” the history professor said.

The Black Archives started as a result of a Florida Legislature bill in 1971 and opened its doors in 1977. Since then, it has received so many archival donations that it ran out of room. It opened another facility in downtown Tallahassee, but Eaton said it still wasn’t enough.

“We’ve had to put things in a warehouse,” Eaton said.

The new name–the Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum–matches the museum’s new vision.

In 1998, the federal government awarded a $3.8 million grant to the facility for its expansion efforts. In 2001, Florida allotted another $2.2 million.

Now, the wait is finally over.

Construction will begin in March, according to a spokesman from Carl Thorne & Associates, Inc. It should be completed by May 2004.

The groundbreaking ceremony marked the spot where the new expansion will be built. It will be built on the north side of the museum behind the Black Archives. It will be four stories tall, including an underground floor.

Eaton said it will be four times as large as the current museum, which will not be torn down and will remain FAMU’s oldest building.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you end,” FAMU president Fred Gainous said at the ceremony. “One struggle at a time, one prayer at a time. Florida A&M University and the Black Archives…it has to be a part of God’s plan.”

Boyd’s representative, Carmen Cummings-Martin, also came to show Boyd’s support, calling the museum “a cultural gym that must be observed.”

“These are pieces of the past that must be preserved,” she said.

The ceremony was filled with local celebrities, including a representative of Governor Jeb Bush and Lt. Governor Frank Brogan.

In all, 15 people grabbed their shovels to break the ground, saying, “Let the dirt fall.”

“As a farm boy in Mississippi I never really dreamed that holding a shovel would have any significance on a university campus,” history professor Leedell Neyland said. “Now I know the simple symbolic gesture can mean the uplifting a culture.”