Like a black fam­ily re­union, VIP party and church pic­nic all rolled into one

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Giselle Shapiro of Los An­ge­les lis­tens rev­er­ently to Pres­i­dent Obama dur­ing the mu­seum’s ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony. The 400,000-square-foot mu­seum dis­plays more than 3,000 ar­ti­facts. Mary Troyan @orn­dorfftroyan USA TO­DAY

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.

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