Tornado damages closes black military museum in Hattiesburg

February 18, 2013 in Education, News, Statewide News, Top Stories

HATTIESBURG – (AP) The African American Military History Museum will be closed for at least one year because of damage it suffered from last Sunday’s tornado.

Staff at The African American Military History Museum said they are devastated by the destruction the facility suffered during a tornado on Feb. 10. The museum which honors the memory of black soldiers may be closed for a year for repairs.

Rick Taylor, executive director of Hattiesburg’s Convention and Tourism commissions, which oversee the museum, tells The Hattiesburg American roof damage caused damage to the museum.

Museum manager Latoya Norman said rainwater soaked many of the items in the museum, both those that were on display and those that were in the archives.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It was devastating. I’m thankful it happened on a day when no one was at work and my coworkers and their families are OK.”

Norman said war medals, documents, uniforms, photographs, memorial flags, mannequins and newspaper clippings all got wet.

The museum’s exhibits and artifacts were located in the historic USO Club – the only surviving USO built exclusively for African-American soldiers. In 2003, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A gaping hole in the left side roof of the African American Military Historical Museum shows the extent of the damage rendered by last week's tornado.

The Hattiesburg Convention Commission worked with various partners to restore the USO Club and opened it as a museum in May 2009.The museum’s exhibits and artifacts were located in the historic USO Club – the only surviving USO built exclusively for African-American soldiers. In 2003, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We lost a fairly significant section of roof,” Taylor said. “The museum’s main hall is open to the weather. The building is now in worse condition from a construction standpoint than when we took it on to make it into a museum.

“The building is definitely recoverable,” he said. “It is a one-of-a-kind building in the United States, and we were concerned that it might have been lost totally.”

The items from the museum will be put in storage until the USO Club can be rebuilt, Taylor said.