smithsonian

Earlier this year, The Root asked, Will White People Go to the National Black Museum?

These days the more immediate question is, Will the national black museum get built?

Years ago, Congress authorized funding for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open in 2015. But that commitment may not be fully carried out. Citing a funding deficit in the proposed 2012 House Appropriations bill, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.), ranking member of the House Administration Committee, is calling on Congress to fix the shortfall.

"When Congress enacted the authorizing legislation establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture within the Smithsonian in 2003, we explicitly authorized a 50-50 public-private funding ratio," Brady wrote this week in a letter to his colleagues. "We entered into a public trust with the Smithsonian and the American people to contribute 50 percent in federal funds, with the remainder coming from private funds raised directly by the Smithsonian."

The 2012 Appropriations bill provides $50 million for the construction of the museum -- less than half of the $125 million requested by the Smithsonian.

"With the ground-breaking on the African American Museum currently scheduled for the summer of 2012, underfunding it now, at this critical juncture, could generate substantial delays and ultimately cost tax-payers significantly more," Brady continued. "It could also impact the Smithsonian's ability to continue to raise funds at the current pace. The Institution's continued success in private fundraising for the museum is contingent upon Congress honoring its own commitments and doing so in a timely manner."

Of course, Brady's reprimand comes at a particularly unfortunate time, as Congress occupies itself with hacking away at federal funding more than ever during last-minute debt-ceiling negotiations. Regardless of promises made in 2003, these days funding for the Smithsonian overall, much less the preservation of black history and culture in particular, is a tough sell.

Indeed, during Wednesday's House floor debate on the 2012 Appropriation bill, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) argued that while the Smithsonian is "very beautiful and nice," it's too expensive right now. "This country is broke," said Broun. "We have to prioritize where we can afford to spend money and where we simply cannot afford to. I believe asking the Smithsonian to simply scale back their spending to levels of 2008 is more than reasonable."

Brady nonetheless encouraged his fellow lawmakers to stand against the proposed funding cuts, not only to the African American Museum but to the Smithsonian Institution in general. "The Smithsonian represents our cultural heritage. It houses many of our national treasures and preserves them for future generations," he wrote. "We all understand the difficult financial position our country is in, but these cuts will create more problems which must ultimately still be addressed. We have a commitment to the American people which needs to be honored."

At the House debate on the matter, Brady actually got backup from both sides of the aisle. "The Smithsonian Institution is a purely federal function," said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.) on Wednesday. "It is something that was given to the United States of America, that the federal government and the people of this country, through us, are stewards of, and I believe it is appropriate as a purely federal function that we fund it adequately."

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian is still working to raise $125 million in private donations needed to build the museum.

What do you think? Is it time to put some of this federal financial support, including for building the National Museum of African American History and Culture, on hold? Or should funding for the world's leading museum complex be preserved?

Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.