Travelling exhibition planned featuring black contributions to American culture

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Imagine the boxing gloves Muhammad Ali wore when he knocked out Sonny Liston just steps away from a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 book of poetry, the first published by an African-American, around the corner from the cell door behind which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

That is the dream of an elite group of scholars and artists, including the novelist Toni Morrison and the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., who have been enlisted to help shape an ambitious traveling exhibition to showcase the black influence on life in this country.

The exhibition would travel to major museums in 10 cities for five years beginning in the summer of 2008, according to plans fleshed out over the weekend at the group’s first planning meeting, held in New York. The 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot exhibition is tentatively titled “America at 400: The African-American Imprint on America,” said Tavis Smiley, the broadcast personality and entrepreneur who hatched the idea.

“We want to wrestle with that question raised by W. E. B. Du Bois: Would America have been America without her Negro people?” said Mr. Smiley.

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