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Tubman museum offers glimpse of new museum, which opens Saturday

The wait was long but worthwhile.

That was the prevailing thought Thursday night at the opening of the new Tubman African American Museum in downtown Macon, which hosted a private party for its members before opening Saturday to the general public as part of a weekend full of Tubman events.

Richard Kiel, who founded the Tubman museum, said he never envisioned the museum relocating into a state-of-the-art, 49,000-square-foot building.

“This is wonderful for me,” he said. “When I started it, I started it small on purpose. I never knew that other people would pick it up and run with it. It’s beautiful -- beyond my expectations.”

The Rev. Joseph L. Rodgers, a longtime member of the museum, said he and others in the community never lost hope after the building process was shut down for a few years when the museum’s first capital campaign fell short of the money necessary to finish building the museum on Cherry Street.

“What a great honor this is,” he said. “It’s a dream. ... I had hope, I had faith, I had a dream that one day I’d see this. Just because you’re down doesn’t mean you’re out.”

Vincent Lynch and his wife became members of the museum only in the past few months, and he thinks the effort is an example of the community’s fortitude to see the project through.

“This is just gorgeous,” he said. “It’s fantastic. I think it’s a clear indication of the kind of determination African-Americans have in this city. We have a heritage that is recognized and appreciated.”

The lower floor includes a gift shop and an exhibit dedicated to the black artists of Georgia. On the second level, there’s a hallway honoring black musicians and a large exhibit by Wilfred Stroud called “From Africa to America.”

At the other end of the exhibition space, several pieces honor the museum’s namesake, Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist who rescued many slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

Tubman Executive Director Andy Ambrose said there’s a great sense of excitement among everyone involved -- the staff, the membership, the donors and the community.

While the museum is about four times the size of the old facility on Walnut Street, Ambrose said the number of staff will stay about the same, but there will be a need for more volunteers in the new building. He said the cost of utilities will increase, but he hopes it will be offset because the new museum offers so many more revenue opportunities.

The facility has a catering kitchen and a large, central rotunda that can accommodate large events, plus classrooms that can be rented as meeting spaces.

Ambrose said most of the museum’s artifacts already have transferred to the new building.

“It’s very vibrant,” he said. “We have an active, open space for visual and performing artists.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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