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African-American Military History Museum Prepares To Celebrate First Anniversary
The mission of the USO in Hattiesburg, Mississippi has changed throughout the decades. First, it served as a USO for African-American soldiers during World War II, then as a community center during the Civil Rights Movement. Last May, the USO entered its final tour of duty as the African American Military History Museum. It opened to record crowds and has welcomed over 5,700 people through its doors since its grand opening. From as far away as Germany, Australia and Brazil, people have come to learn about the dedication, sacrifice and heroism of the African-American soldier.

“It’s amazing that such a diverse crowd has visited the African American Military History Museum in its first year,” said Iola Williams, Hattiesburg Convention Commissioner. “Elementary students, WWII veterans, Canadian University students, American Revolutionary War descendants, visitors from Alabama, Georgia, California, New Jersey, Texas, and from across the country and world have visited our Museum. They have all expressed surprise at the quality of the Museum and the role African-American soldiers played at home and abroad.” In the first year of operation, the Museum staff, volunteers and committee have worked tirelessly to reach out to the local community through events such as “Night at the Museum,” where children toured the Museum and learned about African-American Military History from area veterans. Museum staff also traveled to local libraries, schools and daycares with presentations and interactive games for children. In addition, Museum representatives participated in local festivals, including the Historic Mobile-Bouie Renaissance Festival. These endeavors have helped raise awareness of the Museum and the importance of African-American Military History.

Black History Month proved to be the best-attended month for the Museum since it opened. More than 800 guests took part in special events including the unveiling of the photographic exhibit, The Native Guard: A Photographic History of Ship Island’s African American Regiment. The exhibit showcased an all African-American regiment at Ship Island during the Civil War. The Museum was also featured as a source for questions in Hattiesburg’s Black History Bowl held by the local library and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority of the University of Southern Mississippi. The Museum hosted numerous events, including a ceremony honoring World War II veterans. Special tour groups including schools, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Word of Faith Church, USM’s Service Learning Program, Boyscouts of America, Military Officers Association and Community Cares visited the Museum as well.

“The renovated historic Hattiesburg USO has created such a ‘buzz’ in the community over the past year,” said Colonel (Ret.) Sheila Varnado. “Adults, students and organizations from across the state visited the museum in overwhelming numbers during Black History Month. They learned and celebrated the rich history of African-Americans and their role in military service. We're extremely pleased with the positive impact the African American Military History Museum has had on the entire community.” The African American Military History Museum will celebrate its first anniversary on Saturday, May 22nd from 10a.m.-4p.m. The public is invited to attend. For more information about the anniversary or the African American Military History Museum, visit www.HattiesburgUSO.com.

The African American Military History Museum is a Hattiesburg Convention Commission Facility. Since 1991, the Hattiesburg Convention Commission has been developing, operating and promoting tourism-related facilities for the Hattiesburg area.
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