African American Museum to be established in Huntington

African American Museum to be established in Huntington

A concept drawing of proposed plans for an African American museum in Huntington

An African American Museum will be coming to Huntington. It will be located on the former Naval Reserve center on Mill Dam Road on a roughly 1.5-acre parcel of town-owned land.

In April, the Huntington Town Board passed a resolution to approve a 99-year lease of the property for the museum. Although the project is still in its infancy, progress is being made quickly.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) was primary sponsor of the resolution, with Councilmen Sal Ferro (R) and Dave Bennardo (R) signing on as co-sponsors.

Irene Moore, who chairs the African American Historic Designation Council in Huntington, and Barry Lites, president of the Huntington African American Museum Board, spoke before the unanimous vote, as did several other residents.

After the approval by the Town Board, the African American Museum Board established three new committees that will focus on the overall development of the project. These committees are the Development Committee, which will focus on fundraising; the Building Committee, which will work with architects to develop the design for the museum; and the Community Engagement Committee, which will involve the community, primarily in the realm of social media.

Lites, an attorney based out of Huntington and a longtime resident, is doing much of the planning and organization of the project at this stage. 

While location for the museum is secured, in a phone interview Lites expressed that it will be difficult to do significant fundraising until a definite plan is made for the construction of the building itself. He has been conducting preliminary meetings with various architectural firms to try to come up with a plan and eventually hire one of these firms to design the project.

Lites also has a vision for what he wants the layout inside the museum to look like. 

“My vision is to incorporate, to blend, to bring together history and technology,” Lites said. “History because we’re telling stories. But I want to use technology to do that.”

He said that one thing he envisions is an LED wall with different images and videos and interactive maps for guests to experience. “I really want to blend in technology principally because our focus is the school districts,” Lites said.  

Lites expressed that the goal is to really get the younger generation involved and engaged in the museum and that this will drive the design of the museum, both inside and out. He expressed that the way the land and parking lots are laid out should be specifically tailored for suitability and accessibility for school buses.

“Technology is what attracts young people,” Lites said. “I want it to be an attractive cultural center.” He wants this museum to be valuable to all local residents as well. “We want a museum that is going to be a permanent institution in the Town of Huntington.”

Lites has met with representatives from other museums to get an idea of what the layout might look like in terms of exhibit space, office space, conference rooms, storage space and possibly an auditorium and a media room for video presentations. He said that they could potentially incorporate an event space for renting out to other groups.

As the kinks in the design continue to be worked out, fundraising will become a more tangible focus with $10 million as a general starting goal. However, Lites said that it’s difficult to know exactly how much money will be needed until the design is ironed out. Fundraising will vary from big foundation donors to individual philanthropists to smaller scale local fundraising. They plan to utilize the Community Engagement Committee to get residents involved in this process.

They are planning to have social media accounts on all the major platforms and to develop a website soon so that the plans for this project are more shareable among the community. For residents who want to get in early and join the Friends of the Museum, they should email the board secretary, Beverly Gorham, at [email protected] to get involved.

Lites also expressed that he wants this museum to be for everyone, particularly for residents of Huntington.

“I think it’s really exciting for everyone, not just African Americans,” he said. “It’s already a great town and this just makes it greater by finding out about all these neat people who did all these neat things who struggled, succeeded, showed bravery.”

The content in the museum is planned to be Huntington-focused. Individuals like Jupiter Hammon, Samuel Ballton and Peter Crippen will be heavily featured, so that the focus will be on African American history specifically related to Huntington. 

There is not yet a hard timeline, but in the coming months, as seats on the museum’s committees and subcommittees are filled, the timeline will become more apparent to interested residents of Huntington.