A view from Constitution Avenue of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
On September 24, 2016, President Barack Obama gathered with visitors from all over the country in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the opening of a new museum on the National Mall. The museum is called the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is the first national museum dedicated to African American history.
In 2003, Congress passed a bill to create the museum. President George W. Bush then signed the bill into law. Planning for the museum took a long time. Construction finally began in 2012.
The museum opened to the public after President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama helped 99-year-old Ruth Bonner ring the Freedom Bell outside of the museum. Bonner is the daughter of Elijah Odom, who was born into slavery in Mississippi. As a young boy, Odom escaped from slavery and gained his freedom. After the Civil War ended in 1865, he became a farmer and later went to medical school. The Freedom Bell came from a church that was started by free and enslaved African Americans in Williamsburg, Virginia. The 130-year-old bell was restored and was rung for the first time this year since the days of the Civil Rights movement.
The 400,000-square-foot museum was built near the site of the Washington Monument on the National Mall. Its unique design is based on ideas from West African art and architecture. Its walls’ 3,600 bronze medal panels honor the metal work done by enslaved African Americans long ago.
The museum has nine floors. Different floors highlight different eras in African American history and achievements by prominent African Americans. On the lower floors, visitors can learn about slavery and segregation. Other floors feature exhibits on the African American achievements in different areas, including the arts and sports. The exhibits also highlight important values, such as optimism, or hopefulness for the future, and resiliency, or being able to recover after a setback.
In addition to exhibits, the museum features a library and a café. The café’s menu teaches about the contributions of African American chefs. It has dishes from four different regions of the United States.
At the museum opening, U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis was a featured speaker. He said, “When I was a little child growing up in rural Alabama, a short walk to the cotton fields, but hundreds of miles from Washington, from the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial, my teachers would tell us to cut out of pictures of great African Americans for. . . African American History Month. I became inspired by the stories of George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and so many others whose life and work would be enshrined in this museum.” Lewis first introduced the idea for the museum in 1988 and worked hard to get it built. The museum’s opening is a dream come true for him and many others who helped him make it a reality.