A cadre of spiritual giants was inducted Saturday into the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum as the East Baltimore gallery looks to expand in its third decade.
About 1,000 people gathered in Morgan State University's Murphy Fine Arts Center for a tribute ceremony honoring three pastors and a gospel singer for their roles inspiring the country through faith.
"Thank God for blessing them so that they could bless others," Rep. Elijah Cummings told the audience. "I want to thank our honorees for changing the trajectory of so many people's destiny."
During the three-hour ceremony, statues were unveiled of the late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson; the Rev. Harold A. Carter, the famed pastor of New Shiloh Baptist Church who died in 2013; the Rev. John R. Bryant, a senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; and the Rev. George E. Battle, a senior bishop of the AME Zion Church.
The statues are expected to be put on display within the coming weeks, said Joanne M. Martin, who founded the museum with her late husband, Elmer, in 1983.
They will join more than 100 other life-size wax figures, including the likenesses of national civil rights leaders such as Booker T. Washington, and Baltimore-based luminaries like Pauline Wells Lewis, the radio show host and gospel singer who died in 1998.
The museum draws 150,000 visitors a year, Martin said.
Martin said the museum, in the 1600 block of E. North Ave., is embarking on a capital campaign to raise $76 million. She wants to expand on the nonprofit's mission to serve as an anchor in East Baltimore for cultural tourism with galleries on spirituality, education, history, science and athletics.
So far, Martin said the museum has invested $12 million in the project, including for design and engineering work and the purchase of property for an eventual block-long expansion. The goal is to raise $24 million by 2017, she said.
The new inductees will help the museum better tell the story of the role of blacks in the development of Christianity as a worldwide religion, Martin said. She said the goal is to show through enhanced displays the relationship between spirituality and black communities.
Future statues will be created to honor individuals of other Christian denominations and other faiths, she said.
"This is only a beginning," Martin said. "Each time someone is inducted, it means that they have entrusted us with their legacy, and we take that very seriously."
In addition to Cummings, dignitaries at the ceremony included Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Jackson, who died in 1972, performed at least twice in Baltimore. A team from WombWork Productions paid tribute to the "world's greatest gospel singer" through performance art.
The New Shiloh Great Choir performed a medley of hymns to honor Carter, who preached for more than four decades at New Shiloh Baptist Church in the Mondawmin neighborhood.
"He was one of God's chosen vessels," said Patricia Welch, dean of Morgan State's School of Education and Urban Studies, in a presentation of Carter's achievements.
Performing to honor Bryant and Battle, respectively, were Voices of Empowerment from Baltimore's Empowerment Temple Church and the Greater Gethsemane AME Zion Church concert choir, which traveled from Charlotte, N.C.