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Winfrey Gives Millions To New African-American Museum In D.C.

Oprah Winfrey gave $12 million Tuesday to help build the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, seen here in a scale model (lower center). The facility is expected to open in 2015.
Allison Keyes

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey is giving a multimillion-dollar boost to the Smithsonian's new facility, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). She gave the museum, which is being built in Washington, D.C., $12 million Tuesday, in addition to a previous $1 million donation.

"I am so proud of African-American history and its contributions to our nation as a whole," says Winfrey, chairman and CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network. "I am deeply appreciative of those who paved the path for me and all who follow in their footsteps."

is set to open in late 2015. Construction is already underway at its site on the National Mall, near the Washington Monument.

Standing over the sprawling construction site, founding director Lonnie Bunch says that the facility will name is 350-seat theater after Winfrey. He adds that her gift means the $500 million museum will be finished on time, and on budget. The government is picking up half of the cost, but the rest is coming from investors like Winfrey.

"People like Oprah believed when nobody else believed," Bunch said. "Oprah's $12 million is part of the money that will go to the construction to make sure we build something that will be both memorable to the Smithsonian, but [also] something that will be worthy of the rich history of African-American culture."

Winfrey is a member of the museum's advisory council. Bunch says the theater that will bear her name will feature a variety of activities ranging from scholarly programs to musical gatherings and poetry readings.

"This will be a place of communication," he says.

As Bunch looks into the site, he talks about how it moves him to realize that his dream for the museum is coming to fruition.

"When I come to this site and see hundreds of people — black, white and Latino — working on this," Bunch says, "in some ways it says what the African-American experience is, which is the story of us all."

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Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.
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