The new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. opened September 24 to thousands of visitors, including 2 U.S. presidents, civil rights leaders and celebrities. It has been more than 100 years in the making.
President Barack Obama opened the museum during an outdoor ceremony. His moving speech spoke to the complex relationship between African Americans and the country that once enslaved them.
“We're not a burden on America or a stain on America or an object of shame and pity for America. We are America. And that's what this museum explains," Obama said. "Hopefully, this museum makes us talk to each other and listen to each other and see each other."
"It's a historic event," said Leslie Howard, who traveled from New Orleans to attend the dedication. "And the fact that we have our first black president to dedicate it shows you how God works."
The sprawling new home of African American history spans 85,000 square feet and contains thousands of items. It is the 19th and newest of the Smithsonians.
The dedication featured speeches by Obama, civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, former President George W. Bush and the museum's founding director, Lonnie Bunch. It also featured musical tributes, including Howard University's "Showtime" marching band and an a capella presentation by a choir from D.C.'s Duke Ellington School for the Arts.
Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Robert De Niro, Angela Bassett, and Patti LaBelle were among those presenting during the dedication. Winfrey donated more than $20 million to the museum.
A free three-day festival celebrating the talent and creativity of African-American artists followed the opening. The festival featured jazz, R&B, gospel and hip-hop artists, including The Roots, Living Colour and Public Enemy.
The push for the museum began in 1915 with African-American Civil War veterans looking for a way to commemorate America's black experience. Former President George W. Bush signed the law authorizing the construction in 2003.
Lewis, who co-sponsored legislation authorizing its construction, said the bronze-colored museum "is more than a building, it is a dream come true."
For more information about the museum, visit the website at https://nmaahc.si.edu/.