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African-American exhibit has employee connections

Collage shows museum exhibit, home, woman
“Freedom House” sits in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. The inset photos show the house when it was in Poolesville, MD, before the museum restored the building to its original appearance, and Capital District Communications Coordinator Deneen Taylor, whose great-grandfather was an owner of the home. Images: National Museum of African American History and Culture; Montgomery County, MD, Planning Department, Office of Historic Preservation

Deneen Taylor remembers playing inside the Poolesville, MD, home of her great-grandfather, John Sims — a place built by former slaves.

Taylor, a Capital District communications coordinator, still visits the house, except it now sits inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

“This house meant a lot to my family,” she said.

The two-story home was built around 1875 in an all-black community, where it became a symbol of pride for newly freed slaves.

The house had been slated for demolition until Smithsonian Institution officials discovered its significance, rescued it and renamed it “Freedom House.” The home is now part of Defending Freedom, Defining Freedom: The Era of Segregation,” an exhibit at the museum.

The museum stripped the house to expose its original cabin frame, including the pine stairs leading to the second level.

“The slaves would walk up those stairs,” Taylor said.

When the museum opened in 2016, Taylor and her family — including niece Racine Taylor, a Bethesda, MD, letter carrier — had one goal: to see the house.

“I stayed inside for a long time,” said Deneen. “It brought back memories.”

Deneen and Racine were proud when the Postal Service released a stamp last fall to honor the museum, the only national institution devoted exclusively to the African-American experience.

But they’re also proud of the legacy of the house inside the museum.

Said Racine: “To have this house be a part of history in the museum and to have shared wonderful memories in it with my family is something very special.”

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