For more than a decade, Debbie Montgomery sent donations to support the creation of the country's first national museum of African-American history in Washington, D.C. Even though past plans failed or stalled due to financial struggles or other delays, Montgomery's contributions were steady.
"I was sending $5, $10, $100 whenever I had extra money," she said. "I just think it's important to have a facility to show the work, dedication and commitment the African-American culture has had on the development of this country."
The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens Saturday on the National Mall.
Montgomery — St. Paul's first female police officer — will be there, along with a group of Minnesotans, some of whom are also charter members for their contributions to the national grassroots effort that brought the museum to fruition.
"It's just so emotional," Montgomery said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. "They started this in 1970, trying to get something that represents the history of the African-American for the greater United States and our young people to understand the impact the African-American culture has on the building of the country."
The St. Paul Police Department sent a delegation of officers and young men from Circle of Peace Movement to the museum's opening as part of its initiative to improve community-police relations, the department said. Also, eight Minneapolis high school student from eight different Minneapolis Public Schools are there with Project SUCCESS, a youth development program.
"The opening of the African-American history museum is a very significant piece of American culture, and we wanted to be here for this unique day," said Rick Heydinger, who lives in St. Paul and is a museum charter member.
The museum's unveiling has become a hot ticket: Passes for admission aren't available until November.
President Obama, the first lady and other dignitaries will participate in the festivities. The nation's first black president will ring a bell from the first church founded by African-Americans to officially open the museum to the public.
The museum's collection includes a slave cabin, Harriet Tubman's Bible and parts of a slave ship.
Montgomery grew up during the civil rights era. She participated in some of the historic marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. She said the museum presents a comprehensive look of the African-American experience — from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter.
"It just gives me the chills thinking about it and to have the opportunity to walk through to share the history and look at the parts I've been involved with," she said, "and to look forward to the future of what we as an African-American culture has to offer this country."
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