US: First African American museum opens its doors

President Barack Obama officially opens first museum dedicated exclusively to African American history and culture.

The first national US museum devoted exclusively to African American history and culture has officially opened in Washington DC.

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US President Obama and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, opened the new museum on the National Mall on Saturday by ringing a bell from a historic African American church with help from the Bonner family, the eldest of whom, Ruth Bonner, was the daughter of a man born a slave in Mississippi.

The $540m Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is the only one of its kind in the country, exclusively dedicated to black American history.

“We are not a burden on America, or an object of shame and pity for America,” Obama, the first black US president, said at the opening ceremony on Saturday.

“We are America.”

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He also said the museum will give people “a better understanding of themselves” by teaching them about others – slaves, the poor, black activists, teachers. 

“A clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable. It will shake us out of familiar narratives. It is precisely because of that discomfort that we learn and grow and harness our collective power to make this nation more perfect. That’s the American story that this museum tells. One of suffering and delight. One of fear but also of hope,” Obama said.

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 authorising the construction in 2003.

Bush also spoke at the opening ceremony and said the museum will inspire the nation to “go further and get there faster” on its journey towards justice.

Bush said a great nation does not hide from its history, “it faces its flaws and corrects them”.

Former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who cosponsored legislation authorising the museum, were present at the ceremony.

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Even though only 3,000 artefacts were available for viewing on the opening day, a total of 37,000 objects were collected for the museum, mostly through personal donations.

The artefacts are grouped in 12 inaugural exhibits organised into three sections: history, community and culture.

Highlights include the dress Rosa Parks was sewing before she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus, abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s hymn book, a $600 bill of sale for a teenage girl called Polly, and the coffin of Emmett Till, a teenager whose brutal murder in Mississippi in 1955 mobilised the Civil Rights Movement.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies