With hugs, tears and the ringing of church bells, the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened its doors Saturday to help this nation understand, reconcile and celebrate African-Americans’ often-ignored contributions toward making this country what it is today.
President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, wiped away a tear as he formally opened the Smithsonian’s 19th museum with an impassioned 31-minute speech on the National Mall. Bush, who in 2003 signed legislation establishing the museum, and John Lewis, a veteran civil rights activist and longtime Democratic congressman from Georgia who co-sponsored the bill.
Lewis, who is featured in the museum, said he could feel the weight of history around the museum, with slave voices whispering of escape and church choirs singing of freedom. The president and first lady joined Bonner and her family in ringing a bell from the historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, Virginia, to signal that the museum was officially open. The exterior tiles are inspired by 19th century ironwork created by slaves in the South, and allow sunlight into the museum through patterned openings.