Mr. Bishop of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize a talented businessman, philanthropist, and civil rights activist, Dr. Robert Lee Wright, who served as Chairman of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) Plan for Action Presidential Commission. Dr. Wright played an integral role in the development of this nation’s greatest tribute to the tragic but triumphant story of the African-American community. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a crucial patch that has finally and rightfully been sewn into the quilt of American history. Though the seams may be laden by injustice and oppression, the focal point is the recognition of the vital role African Americans played in the establishment and evolution of this nation and its culture, all of which would not be possible without the valuable contributions of Dr. Robert Wright.
Dr. Wright’s remarkable journey began in a segregated Columbus, Georgia sweltering with the heat of racial injustice. He was the son of a bricklayer and nurse. He graduated from Spencer High School in 1955, after which he left Georgia to escape the systemic discrimination of the South to pursue a degree in optometry from Ohio State University. However, he was not gone for long. Upon his return to Columbus to practice as a medical professional, Dr. Wright became active in the Civil Rights Movement and participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March. In 1968, he was elected to the Columbus City Council and served until he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as Associate Administrator for Minority Small Business and Capital Ownership Development. In 1985, after his time in the Reagan Administration, Dr. Wright created Dimensions International, a successful defense contracting firm.
In 2001, the NMAAHC Plan for Action Presidential Commission was established, and Dr. Wright was recommended by Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma to serve on the commission and when the Commission was organized, the members elected him Chairman. As the Chairman, he was tasked by law to provide President George W. Bush and Congress with an implementation plan for the museum. Wasting no time in engaging this charge, Dr. Wright and his panel produced “The Time Has Come,” a 2003 report that expressed the vision and enumerated the administrative details for the $540 million dollar facility. This report led Congress to enact that same year the NMAAHC Act, which established the museum within the Smithsonian Institution. Even after this victory, the process often faltered as opposition to the museum forced several debates on funding, location, and even the need for such a museum. But through it all, Dr. Robert Wright and his team succeeded in bringing to life the Smithsonian’s 19th museum right where Dr. Wright and so many others feel it belongs—on the National Mall.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture will candidly display the brutal horrors of the international slave trade and its unquantifiable and lingering effects. The museum will also celebrate the tenacity and advancement of African Americans as they remained steadfast in the belief of their worth as human beings. The museum’s juxtaposition of pain and tragedy with perseverance and triumph mirrors the “Horatio Alger” story of Dr. Robert L. Wright’s life in achieving success in the face of adversity.
Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me, my wife Vivian, and the millions of African Americans nationwide in recognizing Dr. Robert Lee Wright for his immeasurable contributions to the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We will soon celebrate the grand opening of this remarkable Museum, where people from all walks of life can gather to remember a dark period in our nation’s history, rejoice at how far we have come as a society, and reflect upon how far we have yet to go.