WASHINGTON – More than 20 years ago, Joanne and Elmer Martin put their wax figures in the back of their hatchback and drove to Maryland libraries and churches, trying to teach people about black history.
On Tuesday, Joanne Martin hauled two of her wax figures to Capitol Hill, where she hoped to persuade lawmakers to grant $15 million to the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum that she and her late husband began 20 years ago.
The museum is “trying to make real a history that seems remote to people,” Martin said after her testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands. “It gives a face to a history that’s been mostly faceless and nameless.”
The museum in the midst of a $60 million, five-year plan to help it fill an additional 105,000 square feet of exhibit space that were recently donated by the city of Baltimore. The plan calls for the museum to broaden the range of its exhibits to include African Americans who served in Congress in the 1800s as well as more contemporary figures such as Muhammad Ali, among others.
The museum, in the 1600 block of E. North Avenue in Baltimore, currently has about 200 life-size wax displays of famous black Americans, from cowboy and rodeo start Bill Pickett to former general and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Martin on Tuesday brought figures of Mary Eliza Mahoney, the first black nurse in America, and Benjamin Hooks, the former director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They stood against a side wall of the hearing room while Martin testified.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, in June introduced the wax museum bill, which has collected 50 lawmakers as cosponsors so far.
Cummings, who also testified at Tuesday’s hearing, said the bill has an “excellent” chance of passing the House.
“This legislation is a tribute to the people of my congressional district who believe in the power of a cultural institution such as the museum to being about positive changes in a challenged community,” Cummings said.
The Senate in July passed similar legislation introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. The state government and Baltimore City have provided the museum with $5 million toward the expansion, which includes the city’s donation of exhibit space.
Martin said the hearing was bittersweet, since her husband was not alive to share it with her. -30- CNS 09