Black historical sites suffer in government shutdown

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Several African-American landmarks and heritage sites have been forced to close Tuesday following the federal government shutdown.

Popular attractions such as Ebenezer Baptist Church, Underground Railroad sites, the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site are all closed to visitors because lawmakers failed to agree yesterday on a spending bill to fund the government.

In Atlanta, various sites associated with Martin Luther King’s legacy are locked up. King’s birth home, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the visitor center and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site are all closed, though The King Center remains open.

“It was very emotional to have to send employees home, without pay, not knowing when they return,” says Judy Forte, superintendent for Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, who had a meeting with her 25 staff members Tuesday to tell them to go home without pay until further notice.

“We are concerned and they are concerned. But it’s what we have to do. I won’t be working as well although we will keep three members of staff on site for emergencies.”

The Douglass site, which preserves the home and estate of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African-Americans of the 19th century, is also closed.

“I hope someone makes a collage of the disappointed faces as they’re turned away from places like the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington D.C.,” says Robert J. Benz, founder executive vice president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. “What would Frederick Douglass think of our legislators today as he sat on the porch of his home at Cedar Hill overlooking the Capitol Building? This shouldn’t happen.”

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