The Legacy Museum, housed at Tuskegee University (a national historic site) in Tuskegee, Macon County, represents an amalgam of gifts and bequests from alumni, artists, trustees, and other individuals as well as other organizations. The holdings are divided into three collections—African Objects, Antiques and Miscellaneous Items, and Art Works—amassed during Tuskegee's 130-year history. The collections range over numerous geographic areas, including Africa, Oceania, Europe, and the United States and represent such artists as Edmonia Lewis, William Edouard Scott, William H. Harper, Henry Ossawa Tanner, William H. Johnson, and Ernest Crichlow.
The museum is located within Tuskegee's National Center for Bioethics Research and Health Care complex in John A. Kenney Hall, which originally served as a hospital. In 1939, Louis Edwin Fry and engineer George L. Washington (head of Tuskegee's Department of Mechanical Industries) designed the building as the Infantile Paralysis Hospital, a 40-bed facility that served African American survivors of polio. In 1987, the hospital complex closed and some of the buildings fell into disuse.
The facility was reborn as a museum in 1997, when Pres. Bill Clinton issued a formal apology from the U.S. government for its creation and perpetuation of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. As part of the formal proceedings, Clinton announced a grant initiative to establish the Bioethics Center at Tuskegee. Former Tuskegee president Benjamin F. Payton decided to retrofit and redesign the Infantile Paralysis hospital building as part of the university's mission to conserve its architectural history, particularly the structure's ornamental glass and woodwork, the original brick and stone accents. Tuskegee University-trained architect Robert L. Brown was placed in charge of the effort. The building consists of three floors comprising 9,000 square feet of exhibition space on two floors. The museum's main entrance is on the first floor and opens onto a hall floored with black tile and hardwood; behind the reception desk hangs a portrait of Booker T. Washington, one of the co-founders of Tuskegee University. The oil portrait was painted by Hungarian-born artist Geza de Polgary. The expansive second-floor display area houses, among other things, a leather carriage, by all accounts belonging to Booker T. Washington. Visitors are allowed to move the carriage, around the floor. Originally housing a therapeutic swimming pool, the ground floor now serves as a storage area for the museum's vast collections.
In addition to the permanent collections, the museum also has galleries that present changing installations. Current exhibits include a collection of artifacts and other items relating to the United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis Study in the Negro Male, 1932-1972, and two large exhibitions of selected items from the university's important collections entitled Benjamin F. Payton: A Legacy in Art and History and Honoring 130 Years: Treasures from The Legacy Museum.
The Legacy Museum is headed by a curator who is supported by several staff members. The staff works in collaboration with a host of consultants and Tuskegee University student volunteers. The museum operates under the auspices of Tuskegee University Library Services and works closely with the Tuskegee University Archives. More than 100,000 individuals visit this historic site and its museums every year.
Jontyle Theresa Robinson
Published February 25, 2011
Last updated February 28, 2011