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Celebrating Black Culture

DALLAS -- The debut of the $6 million Museum of African-American Life and Culture in Fair Park here proved that dreams can come true.<BR><BR>The stellar soiree last fall that marked the opening of the museum was the culmination of 15 years of...

DALLAS — The debut of the $6 million Museum of African-American Life and Culture in Fair Park here proved that dreams can come true.

The stellar soiree last fall that marked the opening of the museum was the culmination of 15 years of planning, and the dramatic setting was light years from its one-room beginning at Bishop College in South Oak Cliff, a Dallas suburb.

About 1,000 celebrants, including poet Maya Angelou, donned black-tie or ethnic attire for the party, which was chaired by Matilda Robinson.

A small ragtime band kept the beat buoyant as guests checked out the space, which sits adjacent to the Fair Park Music Hall.

From the soaring, domed ceilings of Southern yellow pine to the clay-tiled floors to the expansive arched windows, the museum was designed to harmonize with nature, according to architect Arthur Rogers.

Art from Africa as well as the Southwest, artifacts such as a 15th-century Ethiopian leather bible and some African textiles are on view along with temporary exhibits. The museum also houses a book and gift store.

Like many guests, Phyllis Wilson opted to wear ethnic attire — a gold silk taffeta robe and matching headscarf. “I bought it at a small shop in Dallas, but it reflects Zimbabwean culture,” said Wilson.

Others jazzed up their black-tie looks with ethnic accents, from African-print bow ties to colorful jewelry.

“It’s finally a reality,” said Michelle Smith. “We’ve worked towards this for a long time. I came by here a few months ago when it was just sheetrock and frame. Now it’s all beautiful and finished.”

Following the cocktail party, guests adjourned to a tent next to the museum for dinner. The following day, Texas Governor Ann Richards and a host of other dignitaries christened the museum, which is open to the public free of charge.