Freeman Roundhouse begins work on museum expansion

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After years of fundraising, supporters of the Oliver Nestus Freeman Roundhouse Museum got to see their hard work turned into action Thursday at the groundbreaking for a new exhibit hall.

“Typically we have nonprofits ask us for money, but this group raised the largest portion of it themselves and made this project happen,” said Councilman James Johnson, who spoke on behalf of the Wilson City Council and the Wilson County Tourism Development Authority. “They put several soles on their boots working. They walked and worked toward today.”

The 2,000-square-foot expansion is expected to cost nearly $372,000 and supporters raised more than half of the cost in the past three years. Executive Director Bill Myers said he frequently fields questions by stakeholders from other communities looking to build similar projects.

“They want to know how we did it, who did it and why,” Myers said. “I tell them it is a community effort and they always seem surprised when I say that.”

Various organizations have lent support in one way or another since the museum opened in 2001 with the goal to preserve, promote and present African-American history, art and culture. Myers said whether a person donated spare change or a foundation gave thousands, the museum was made possible by and for the Wilson community.

“This museum is for the city of Wilson and for all of us,” said Ken Jones, construction supervisor for the museum. “It may be called an African-American museum because it predominantly reflects the African-American population, but it is about the history of Wilson also. By working together, we can make this history and the next 50 years even better.”

As the attendees bowed their heads for the prayer during the nearly 100-degree afternoon, Bishop Willie Thomas of Brown Chapel Free Will Baptist Church praised the Lord for the vision of the museum.

“Thank you for what is taking place: this one Wilson and the unity that is coming together,” Thomas said.

Construction for the expansion is expected to take about six months. Myers reminded groundbreaking attendees that the museum fundraising was not over.

“The other question I get is ‘How much is it going to cost?’ Well, I wish I could tell you. The truth is I don’t know, but we move by faith, believing that you will see the importance of this endeavor and that you will help sustain it.”

The exhibit hall will have several areas to highlight influential Wilsonians, the culture and art of the community as well as a conference room and interactive exhibit. Myers said the hours will be expanded and with it, operating costs are estimated to increase from $16,000 a year to $20,000.

“There is still a great need for your help,” he said. “We want to remain relevant and involved by reaching new audiences, growing our permanent collection, presenting cutting-edge exhibitions and developing innovative educational and cultural programming.”

To learn more about the Freeman museum, visit www.theroundhousemuseum.com/.

bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com | 265-7821