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Museum opening, reenactment mark Civil War this week

Tuesday - 7/19/2011, 5:40am  ET

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Reenactors get ready to enter the newly expanded African American Civil War Museum in D.C. Monday. (WTOP Photo/Hank Silverberg)
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Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The D.C. region is getting a good dose of Civil War history this week on both sides of the Potomac River, beginning with Monday's reopening of the African American Civil War Museum in the nation's capital.

The museum highlights the role of black Americans in the war: 250,000 fought for the Union during the course of the conflict.

"It's one of the best kept secrets of American history," museum curator Harry Jones says. "It was intentionally suppressed early in mid-20th century."

Jones, who had a relative fight for the Union, says the museum aims to avoid the controversy over the role of black Americans in the war by using primary documents to tell the story.

"If you weren't there, if you didn't live the history, you do not get a quote in our exhibit," he says.

The museum has been around for 10 years. But its new site at 1925 Vermont Avenue in Northwest is 5,000 square feet and allows for many more artifacts and documents. It's also right across the street from the African American Civil War Memorial.

The reopening of the museum comes the same week that Manassas will commemorate the Civil War's first major land battle in 1861.

On Wednesday, the day before that commemoration begins, the Civil War Trust will turn over an additional 54 acres of land to the National Park Service to be included in the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Trust spokeswoman Mary Koik says the new acres already are surrounded by the park but have been in private hands.

Prince William County and Manassas are planning a large number of events starting Thursday to commemorate the 1861 battle, including a battle reenactment Saturday and Sunday that could include as many as 10,000 participants.

There are similar events planned across the country over the next four years.

"We were expecting a lot of folks to care about this, but it's been greater than we anticipated," says Koik.

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