Baltimore’s historic National Great Blacks in Wax Museum received more than $2 million in federal funding Friday. 

U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen presented a check for $2,008,580 to Dr. Joanne Martin, president and co-founder of the nation’s first wax museum.

Martin founded the facility, located in East Baltimore’s Oliver community, in 1983 alongside her late husband Elmer Martin. The couple planned to “create a museum so powerful, right in the heart of a fragile community in East Baltimore, that people from around the world could understand that communities matter and museums matter,” Martin said.

For decades, through wax figures, the museum has been able to showcase the history of many trailblazing Black figures like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and former President Barack Obama. The museum welcomes more than 125,000 visitors annually from across the country.

But museum officials have major concerns about safety and accessibility. They said the museum needs a new building and landscaping. Friday’s $2 million award will help to complete large infrastructure upgrades, renovations, improvements; update their educational programming; and expand the 10,000-square-foot building to 25,000 square feet. 

Legislators fought to include this funding in the Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus appropriations legislation, which included $772.5 billion for non-defense discretionary programs.

“We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if we didn’t have teamwork,” Mfume said. “It was very important to look at this competitive process. We had 115 applicants for these dollars. We could only award 12 or 15 of them, but this was a priority for a lot of reasons.”

“I cannot thank Ben Cardin — our senior congressman — and Chris Van Hollen — our junior congressman — who represents team Maryland in the U.S. Senate and who never takes no for an answer,” Mfume said.

The funding will help the museum to “keep moving into the future,” Van Hollen said. “With this funding we will keep education going. We will continue to bring more people to East Baltimore, so East Baltimore will continue to grow and thrive.”

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Latrice Hill

Latrice Hill is a Baltimore native and Morgan State University graduate who loves all the great things this city has to offer. She worked with WMAR 2-News as an Assignment Desk Editor before she joined...