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Architect shapes nation's view of African American history

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/14/2017 By MARTHA WAGGONER, Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, photo, architect Phil Freelon responds to a question during an interview at his office in Durham, N.C. For Freelon, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a crowning triumph, yet its opening last year came amid a wrenching personal trial. His monumental achievement came on the heels of a diagnosis of ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that eventually leads to total paralysis. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) © The Associated Press In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, photo, architect Phil Freelon responds to a question during an interview at his office in Durham, N.C. For Freelon, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a crowning triumph, yet its opening last year came amid a wrenching personal trial. His monumental achievement came on the heels of a diagnosis of ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that eventually leads to total paralysis. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — The National Museum of African American History and Culture was a long time coming, but for architect Phil Freelon it was right on time.

In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, photo, architect Phil Freelon listens to a question during an interview at his office in Durham, N.C. For Freelon, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a crowning triumph, yet its opening last year came amid a wrenching personal trial. His monumental achievement came on the heels of a diagnosis of ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that eventually leads to total paralysis. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) © The Associated Press In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, photo, architect Phil Freelon listens to a question during an interview at his office in Durham, N.C. For Freelon, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was a crowning triumph, yet its opening last year came amid a wrenching personal trial. His monumental achievement came on the heels of a diagnosis of ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that eventually leads to total paralysis. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Freelon was the principal architect for the Smithsonian museum, which opened in September. He says he feels as if he had been preparing for the museum his entire career.

The Durham-based architect is now world-renowned for his designs and married to Grammy-nominated singer Nnenna Freelon. Yet his crowning success came mixed with heartrending news.

Just months before the Washington museum opened in September, he was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative neurological disease that eventually leads to total paralysis. Average life expectancy after diagnosis is three to five years.

He plans to keep designing buildings. Among his projects is an expansion of the Motown Museum in Detroit.

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