By Patrick McArdle
POWNAL — The Museum of Black World War II History will be closing down by the end of next month and relocating to Stamford, Conn., according to founder and curator Bruce Bird.
The museum, which is believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States, operates with the goal of “enlighten(ing) visitors about the relatively unknown and unappreciated contribution of the 1.1 million African-Americans who served in the U.S. military in World War II,” according to its website.
Opened in 2006, the museum operates out of a former schoolhouse on Oak Hill School Road in Pownal.
Bird called the museum his “retirement project” and said he was moving the museum to Stamford for a very practical reason.
“It’s not doing well here. It’s well-received but there’s just not enough people coming by every week, month, year. The fuel bills are killing me so I’m hoping to get a bigger museum to expand,” he said.
The location of the museum has also caused some curiosity, according to Bird.
“The question I get from both white people and black people is, ‘Why is an old white guy in the least black state in the country having this museum here?’ The answer is, the building became available,” he said with a laugh.
Bird said the museum’s collection includes a lot of data on black members of the military from the World War II years and other pieces that would be found in a “standard military museum” like guns, artillery shells, models of military equipment and a bronze replica of the Congressional gold medal given to the Tuskegee airmen in 2007. Bird attended the ceremony. The Tuskegee airmen were African-Americans who flew with the Army Air Corps or provided ground support during World War II.
While Bird said he is committed to reopening the museum in Stamford, he isn’t exactly sure where and when that will happen. He is looking for a site in Stamford that could host the museum.
“I will probably close the museum here, late October, early November, and with a little bit of luck move down there in the winter, open up in the spring. Now we’re just waiting for someone to give us a building,” he said.
While Bird said he hopes the museum can build attendance, the last five years in Vermont have had their highlights.
“What I wanted to do is find out, were people interested in it. Is it just me or did the rest of the world find it interesting? And they do. I’ve gotten people (who come) from Australia to Russia that have dropped in at one time. The problem is, we’re in a place where not many people come by,” he said.
Bird said it was amazing how much he learns from the visitors to the museum.
“I contend that I have a lot of interesting people stop by and talk to me and tell me interesting stories and pay me for the privilege for doing so,” he said.
Stamford, where blacks make up about 14 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census data from 2010, may be a better home for the museum professionally, but Bird said he also had a personal motive for moving.
“My lady friend lives there. One hundred fifty miles each way for a date is a little bit ridiculous,” he said.
The Museum of Black World War II History’s website is http://blackww2museum.org. It is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday to Monday. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for veterans, senior citizens and students.