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Broward Library of African American History

WORK BEGINS ON LIBRARY FOR BLACK HISTORY

Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2001
Section: LOCAL
Page: 3B

BY TONI MARSHALL Staff Writer

Frustration finally gave way to fruition Monday, without ceremony but with a few of the major players who have given hundreds of hours of sweat equity and brain power to deliver black history to the Sistrunk corridor and the nation.

They watched as a bulldozer dug into the hard ground at Delevoe Park at Sistrunk Boulevard and Northwest 27th Avenue, kicking off construction of the nation's newest African-American library and research center.

"Never give up," said Broward County Library Director Sam Morrison, surveying the dusty field. "It's what sustained African-American people in this country."

Supporters have been waiting for this day for more than five years. Morrison had watched a similar event almost 18 months ago when the research library had its first groundbreaking in October 1999. The last two years have been fraught with postponements, from accusations of inadequate and unsafe building plans to the chief architect abandoning the 52,000-square foot, two-story project. The cost has increased from $10.9 million to $11.4 million.

The library is scheduled to open in August 2002.

It will be one of three major institutions for black research in the United States, distinguishing itself from the two largest centers -- the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture in New York and the Auburn Avenue Research Library in Atlanta -- by focusing not solely on African-American history, but including the migration of Caribbean and South American blacks to the United States.

The library will feature African-American themes throughout its design and will include a 300-seat auditorium, a computer training lab, and traveling and permanent exhibits. Major collectors have begun to sell and donate works to the library, which will have a museum and culture center on the first floor.

The Mizell Library on Northwest Sixth Street in Fort Lauderdale, which houses an African-American collection, will close once the center opens. The collection and the staff will relocate to the new library.

Kay Harvey, who headed the corporate gift arm of the project, raising more than $11 million, said it wasn't hard to raise money once everyone understood the project. The problem was where the library was to be located. "It's not in Los Angeles or New York," she said.

But Ellyn Walters, community fund-raiser, had an even bigger challenge: to explain the project to the black community and its importance to black Americans.

"This is a major step for the African-American community here," said Walters, who raised more than $400,000 through programs and projects. She has put together 14 committees to raise money for the library and has collected checks for as little as $10.

Supporters must raise more than $2 million to furnish the library, buy books and set up an endowment. The center has received $12 million in grants and donations, which mainly is going to construction costs.

It will cost $2.3 million annually to operate the library. That includes about $1.9 million in salaries and $400,000 in operations and for supplies.

"The community is very proud of it. This will be the first time for most of us being so close to something that will be a major influence on the nation, especially black America," she said.

Toni Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4550.

Copyright 2001, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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