OBAMA: BLACK HISTORY MUSEUM ‘BELONGS TO ALL’
Like a black family reunion, VIP party and church picnic all rolled into one
America has a new WASHINGTON front porch.
The entryway to the National Museum of African American History and Culture — inspired by those iconic covered verandas of Southern and African architecture — hosted presidents and poets Saturday, opening day for the museum that explores one of the most complicated parts of American history.
“The story that is told here doesn’t just belong to black Americans, it belongs to all Americans,” President Obama said from the covered doorway.
The 400,000-square-foot museum displays more than 3,000 artifacts, such as the dress Rosa Parks was sewing before she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955; a bill of sale for a 16-year-old girl named Polly, who was transferred between owners in 1835 for $600; and shackles used to restrain slaves in the holds of ships on the Middle Passage between Africa and North America.
Obama, the last speaker at the two-hour ceremony, focused on one artifact in particular: a slave auction block with an engraving about how Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay spoke from it.
In a history written by slave owners, the engraving makes no mention of what else happened on that stone, “where day after day for years, men and women were torn from their spouse or their child, shackled and bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle,” Obama said.
“Consider what this artifact tells us about history, about how it’s told, about what can be cast aside,” Obama said.
“As Americans, we rightfully passed on the tales of the giants who built this country; who led armies into battle and waged seminal debates in the halls of Congress and the corridors of power,” he said. “But too often, we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others, who built this nation just as surely, whose humble eloquence, whose calloused hands, whose steady drive helped to create cities, erect industries, build the ar-
“It reaffirms that all of us are America — that African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story.” President Obama
senals of democracy.”
Obama was joined on stage by first lady Michelle Obama; former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush; civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis of Georgia, and Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the museum.
President Bush, who signed the legislation authorizing the museum’s construction in 2003, said the museum showed a commitment to truth.
“A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them,” he said.
The opening ceremony had the sights and sounds of a black family reunion, a diverse Washington, D.C., cocktail party, a Sunday church picnic and a presidential inauguration all wrapped in one. In the VIP seating sections closest to the stage, members of Congress rubbed shoulders with celebrities, millionaire philanthropists and anyone who was lucky enough to know someone to get a good seat.
Samuel L. Jackson took a selfie with the museum in the background; Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, strategized with Marc Morial, the CEO of the National Urban League; retired general Colin Powell chatted amiably with Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, Robert De Niro and Angela Bassett drew roars from the crowd, which started to gather on the Mall at daybreak.
In the only overtly political statement of the ceremony, singer LaBelle finished her version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come with a mention of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president.
Obama addressed the museum’s ability to navigate the horrors of slavery and segregation while still being uplifting and hopeful.
“Yes, a clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable, and shake us out of familiar narratives,” he said.
“But,” he continued, “it is precisely because of that discomfort that we learn and grow and harness our collective power to make this nation more perfect.”
President Obama begins to tear up while speaking at the dedication ceremony for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
President Obama dedicates the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on Saturday. “It is a monument, no less than the others on this Mall, to the deep and abiding love for this country,” he said.