Here's Why Altria's Gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture is So Important

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an Act of Congress through legislation signed into law in 2003 by President George W. Bush.

Now, if you'll check your smartphone, you'll note that we're currently living in the year 2014. Eleven years on, and the museum is still under construction. In fact, ideas for the museum have been floating around since the 1970s. (Some even trace the museum's origins back to 1929 when President Hoover commissioned a group to build a "National Memorial Building" showcasing African-American achievements in the arts and sciences.)

Perhaps this delay isn't surprising, given how slowly things move in Washington, but it nonetheless represents a frustrating lack of progress, especially when one considers museum's ambitious scope.

The museum will be the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural institution devoted exclusively to exploring and documenting the African American story and its impact on American history. Currently being built on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument, the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is scheduled to open in 2016 at a cost of more than $500 million, which covers design, construction and the installation of exhibitions. Half the cost is being covered by Congress and the rest by the private sector through a campaign that has raised more than $170 million.

This brings us to the recent news that the Altria Group has donated $1 million as part of this private fundraising effort. While the figure may not be entirely awe-inspiring given how much the museum needs to raise, every little bit helps. In fact, Altria's timely contribution is particularly critical as the museum heads into their "last mile" of fundraising and construction. With a proposed opening date of 2016, the money will certainly be put to good use, since no one wants to see any further delays.

Altria's gift during this important phase isn't lost on Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the museum, who noted, "We are honored to have the support of Altria Group as we move into the final phase of construction. As the building takes shape in the nation’s capital, Altria is helping us create a groundswell of excitement and pride for a museum with an unprecedented mission: to tell America’s story through the lens of the African American experience.”

Hopefully, other philanthropic groups and wealthy donors will follow Altria's lead in taking the National Museum of African American History and Culture across the finish line.