President Obama’s thoughts on the National Museum of African American History and Culture

“This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are. It helps us better understand the lives of yes, the president, but also the slave. The industrialist but also the porter. The keeper of the status quo but also the activist seeking to overthrow that status quo.” – President Obama

Over the weekend the Smithsonian unveiled the latest jewel of the American landscape, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Our nations’ leading politicians and activists were all in attendance for the important grand opening. While as a nation we are currently struggling through a “flare up” of racial tension, the new museum is evidence of how far we have come in our short history and it proves that the true heartbeat of our people is unity, not division.

President Obama had some remarks about the opening in his most recent Weekly Address:

This weekend, we’ll dedicate the newest American icon on our National Mall – the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s a beautiful building, five stories high and some 70 feet below the ground, situated just across the street from the Washington Monument. 

And this museum tells a story of America that hasn’t always taken a front seat in our national narrative. As a people, we’ve rightfully passed on the tales of the giants who built this country. But too often, willful or not, we’ve chosen to gloss over or ignore entirely the experience of millions upon millions of others.

But this museum chooses to tell a fuller story. It doesn’t gauze up some bygone era or avoid uncomfortable truths. Rather, it embraces the patriotic recognition that America is a constant work in progress; that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is within our collective power to align this nation with the high ideals of our founding.

That’s what you’ll see inside. You’ll see it in the shackles of an enslaved child and in the hope of Harriet Tubman’s gospel hymnal. You’ll see it in the tragedy of Emmett Till’s coffin and in the resilience of a lunch counter stool and in the triumph of a Tuskegee Airplane. You’ll see it in the shadow of a prison guard tower and in the defiance of Jesse Owens’ cleats and in the American pride of Colin Powell’s uniform.

All of that isn’t simply the African-American story; it’s part of the American story. And so it is entirely fitting that we tell this story on our National Mall, the same place we tell the stories of Washington and Jefferson and our independence; the story of Lincoln who saved our union and the GIs who defended it; the story of King who summoned us all toward the mountaintop.

That’s what we’ll celebrate not just this weekend, but in the years and generations ahead – a fuller account of our glorious American story. It’s a chance to reflect on our past and set a course for the future. Because here in this country, all of us, no matter what our station in life, have the chance to pick up the pen, and write our own chapter for our time. 

You can see the entire opening ceremonies, including speeches by President Obama, former President George W. Bush, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, among others, and music by entertainers like Stevie Wonder. It’s all part of a 3-day celebration marking the opening of this wonderful new museum. I encourage you to skim through and enjoy some of the speeches and to remember we are one nation, black, white, brown…

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


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