New Smithsonian opens in D.C. honoring African American History and Culture

President Barack Obama, with first lady Michelle Obama and Ruth Odom Bonner, center, a 99-year-old whose father was born a slave, ring the bell opening the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016. Photo credit: Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Excitement was in the air as tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall saturday to celebrate the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

“It is well overdue that they have a museum that honors the story of African Americans who helped to create that very capitol that is the founding location of this country,” said Nadirah Moreland, a D.C. resident who attended the opening celebration. “I think they have done an amazing job, from the creation of it to the telling of all the kinds of stories. I’m really excited.”

People from all backgrounds and all parts of the world were in attendance, coming together to recognize the history, struggles, and accomplishments of African Americans.

“I think it tells the society and the world that people and humans matter and that it doesn’t matter what they look like,” said Rhea Settles, who was visiting from San Francisco, California for the opening of the museum. “This is a representation and celebration of all the contributions black people have made.”

After decades of individuals yearning for a place to house centuries of African American history, and years of anticipation leading up to the opening on the museum, President Obama officially dedicated the museum Saturday morning.

With the crowd clapping and cheering as he took the podium, President Barack Obama said the new museum will help tell a richer and fuller story of America.

“By knowing this other story, we better understand ourselves and each other. It binds us together,” Obama said. “It reaffirms that all of us are American, that African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story. It is central to the American story.”

Obama’s remarks resonated with the crowd during the historic moment.

“I think for me, agreeing with President Obama, it represents America’s story,” said Allie Whitehurst, who came from Oakland, Cali. to see the museum. “It is African American history but it is also American history, and for my grandchildren it is to know that they are part of that history; the good, the bad, the ugly, and the opportunity to make it better.”

The museum details the history of African-Americans beginning with slavery, portrays the obstacles and complex racial divides throughout the years, and shows the story of those who helped pave the way for change. The black gospel music featured in the museum, which was contributed by Bob Darden, a Baylor University Journalism, Public Relations and New Media professor, and the Baylor Library through the Black Gospel Restoration Project, helps to tell those stories of so many African-Americans.

“I think that when people from around the world come to the United States, they don’t always know the story of America through the lens of the African American people,” Moreland said. “Now that it is in the national Smithsonian museum, it can’t be overlooked.”

Especially in light of the Tulsa, Okla., and Charlotte, N.C., police shootings and protests in Charlotte this past week, where racial tensions were high, many who attended the opening celebration were hopeful that the museum could educate others and provide a greater context to national issues.

“I’m hopeful that we will have lots of different types of folks come to learn about this story,” said Patricia Ford, who traveled from Chicago, Illinois. “I think as black people we always have to learn about others in order to be successful in the workplace or if we want to live in a particular neighborhood. We are making some of the changes and we are being accommodating while other people don’t have to be as accommodating, so I’m just hopeful they will come and learn more.”

As the Freedom Bell from the Virginia Baptist Church rang, which dates back to 1776 when both enslaved and free individuals met in secret to worship, the museum was officially opened to the public.

“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.”