Doors finally open on Macon’s Tubman museum

About every major construction project is a long journey that typically will have some setbacks, but there may not have ever been one in Macon quite like the Tubman African American Museum.

On Saturday, 13 years after construction began, the museum finally opened the doors of its new home at 310 Cherry St.

About 100 people gathered at the old building on Walnut Street and marched the short distance to the new location to cut the ribbon. The march included the Southwest High School Drum Line and Hayiya Dance Theatre’s West African Dance and Percussion Ensemble.

With the Pan African Festival already starting up, more than 200 people gathered for the ceremony. The festival is a fundraiser for the museum and the date was changed this year to coincide with the opening of the museum.

Organizers could probably be forgiven for making it a little more drawn out than most ribbon cuttings.

One of the first speakers was Mike Dyer, president of the Greater-Macon Chamber of Commerce and a longtime Tubman board member.

He began by talking about the building’s namesake, Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery then returned 13 times to lead 70 family members and friends to freedom.

“This is a woman who epitomized determination, perseverance, passion for a cause, commitment to a belief, and that’s the same kind of values of the people who worked so hard to get this building completed,” Dyer said.

The building sat half finished for years after funds for construction ran out. It got back on track after Bibb County voters approved a special purpose local option sales tax that included $2.5 million to finish the museum.

On Saturday morning, Michael McCarthy, of Macon, was one of the first standing outside the door of the old museum waiting for the march to the new one. He regretted that he had never actually made it to see the old museum before it relocated, and didn’t want to miss seeing the new home.

“I wanted to make this walk since I had never been in this one,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of the new one.”

A preview party was held Thursday for museum members, but Saturday marked the first time the general public had a chance to see the new home.

Reviews were overwhelmingly positive.

Katie B. Glenn, of McDonough, drove down with her granddaughter Kaitlyn Glenn to the see the new building. Originally from Macon, her niece was married to Wilfred Stroud, a jazz musician who painted the museum’s “From Africa to America” mural.

Glenn had been to the old museum many times and was looking forward to seeing the new one open.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said. “It’s going to be here for all eternity for the people of Macon.”

The museum isn’t quite finished yet. Upstairs, there is an empty room that is expected to become a tribute to Macon’s musical history, including Little Richard and Otis Redding. In the hallway outside the room is the 1928 Kohler & Co. upright piano Little Richard played at Anne’s Tick Tock in Macon. The piano is on loan from the collection that had been at the now-closed Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

The museum quickly began filling with people after the doors opened. Executive Director Andy Ambrose was all smiles as he stood among the crowd checking out the new building.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s been a long-awaited day and we are so excited to finally be in this beautiful space.”

The museum will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.