Black history museum gets special opening gift

Black History Month was marked in a very special way Wednesday. The president and the first lady attended the ground breaking for the National Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall, where Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech still echoes.

CBS News correspondent Chip Reid got a first look at some of the priceless artifacts the museum will hold.

Charles Blockson, 78, has been collecting African and African-American artifacts for more than 50 years. The high point came just last year when he inherited 39 items that belonged to Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery, she escaped, but returned to the South nearly 20 times leading hundreds of others to freedom on what came to be known as the Underground Railroad.

Some of Charles Blockson's ancestors were rescued by Tubman.

"When I first received (her artifacts), I was surprised, shocked. Nearly every item I picked up I started to cry, the tears just, my emotional armor erupted," Blockson said.

The items include a silk shawl that was given to Tubman by Queen Victoria, and Tubman's book of gospel hymns. Blockson, though, says it felt wrong to keep them, calling it "an awesome burden."

So he donated the Tubman artifacts, most of them too fragile to be handled, to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

"When he called and said, 'I have Harriet Tubman material,' I didn't believe him. When he pulled out the hymnal everyone started crying," said Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum.

Charles Blockson has no regrets about giving up his priceless Tubman collection

"In the inner chambers of my soul I believe I did the right thing. They meant a lot but they weren't mine. They belong to the world," Blockson said.

Harriet Tubman died 99 years ago. At long last her story and the story of the African-American people from slavery to segregation to civil rights and beyond will be told on the national mall, where America honors its heroes.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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