tv Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Opens... CSPAN November 24, 2016 8:00pm-10:01pm EST
here. and i think it's a very good barometer for how we're doing as a society. >> there's a snapshot of that history behind you. tell us a little bit about the choice for this design element as visitors first enter the history galleries. >> i think what you're seeing here is a synopsis top to bottom. so this is kind of an introduction to what you will see walking through the history galleries. the smithsonian national museum of african-american history and culture opened its doors to the public for the first time in september. next on american history tv, the opening ceremony. speakers included president obama, former president george w. bush, and founding museum director lonnie bunch. and patti labelle, stevie wonder and denice graves performed. this is about two hours.
♪ what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? ♪ ♪ whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight ♪ ♪ o'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? ♪ ♪ and the rockets' red glare the bombs bursting in air ♪ ♪ gave proof through the night that our flag was still there ♪ ♪ oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave ♪
>> please welcome pastor of the abyssinian baptist church in new york city, reverend dr. calvin o. butts iii. [ applause ] >> it's hard to believe it's been four years since we were first here for the groundbreaking. what a tremendous accomplishment, and a special word of appreciation goes out to brother lonnie bunch. [ applause ]
only through his efforts and a dedicated staff that worked with him is this able to be accomplished. the night is beautiful so are the faces of my people. the stars are beautiful, so are the eyes of my people. beautiful also is the sun. beautiful also are the souls of my people. say it loud, i'm black, and i'm proud. say it loud, i'm black, and i'm proud. say it loud, i'm black, and i'm proud. when those thousands of slave ships took us far beyond the sights and smells of our land and beyond the far-reaching flights of our birds, deposited us in the caribbean, south america, central america and in
the wilderness of north america, there we were asked to sing one of the songs. and some said, how can we sing the lord's song in a strange land? but others said, you can sing if you know the lord. and we did sing. we sang spirituals. we sang the blues. langston said, "they done took my blues and gone." they sing them on broadway, they sing them in the hollywood bowl. they put them in symphonies. they fix them so they don't even sound like me. they took my spirituals and gone. they put them in macbeth and carmen jones. they put them in all kinds of swings mercados. they put them in everything but what's about me. i guess one day, somebody's going to stand up and talk about me. they're going to write about me. they're going write about me, black and beautiful, they're going sing about me, they're going to do plays about me. they're going to make movies about me.
where's oprah winfrey? make movies about me. about i guess it will be me. yes, it will be me. and what we're witnessing here today, beloved, is the accomplishment of many, all walks of life coming together to put up this monument to those who made america great. yes, oh, yes, we built the wall. we put stick and mud on top of each other so that the dutch would be protected from the english. we built the wall. we built the wall not only literally, but we built it figuratively. anybody can be great if you have me working for you for 250 years and never paid me a dime. come on. then we had to try to get it straight. the bonner family is here. sister bonner's father was in the civil war. civil war tried to straighten it
out. and after the civil war was over, they sent france. had to send a statue over here to commemorate me. we put in the the harbor of my home, new york city. we called it the statue of liberty. we welcomed everybody. what do you want to send people away from? this is give me your tired, your poor, isn't it, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the retched refuge of your shores. i lift my lamp beside the golden door. we need this museum because it was me who was polishing the door to keep it golden all those years. i see this audience in front of me, but i know there are those across the country watching us now. and i celebrate this day because not only do i have a chance to give great applause to our president, the one and only, the man who has done more for this country than i've seen in a long time, barack obama.
and i want you to know, beloved, as we stand here -- and i'm also almost through, but i'm a baptist preacher so that's my first finish. i want you to know that the words of inspiration are meant to say to you that in this museum -- and lonnie has made sure that we have all that we need. in this museum is the blood, sweat and tears of generations. and in this museum is the blood, sweat, and tears of men and women who have gone out to raise the dollars to make this thing work. that's what i'm glad they sent -- sat me next to ken chenault. you ought to give ken a round of applause because he did a lot of hard work to get this done. [ applause ] and finally, i want to say with the unrest in the nation today -- and i'm very aware of what's going on -- when i go in
here and walk past the casket of emmett till, i'm very aware of what's going on. and i want you to know that this was only accomplished because men and women of good will, black and white, rich and poor, republican and democrat put their hearts together, their minds together and their hands together in order to build this great monument to a people who have truly given their all to the united states of america. and finally, i want to say that don't be discouraged. listen, beloved, don't be discouraged by what's ahead. hold on to your dreams, and keep the faith. one african-american preacher wrote in the lyrics of a song, he said "harder yet may be this fight. and right may often yield to might. and wickedness awhile may rein and satan's cause may seem to gain, but there is a god who
rules above. and he's got a hand of power and a heart of love, and if i'm right, he'll fight my battles and we will be free someday." i think we're right. i think dr. king was right. i think maryanne anderson was right. i think that so many who have gone before us were right. i think barack obama is right. and if we're right, god will fight our battles. and we will be free some day. so i thank you for gathering today. we have a wonderful celebration before us. may god bless you, may god bless the african-american museum of history and culture, and may god bless america. thank you so much. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, the secretary of the smithsonian institution, david scorden.
>> good morning. what a historic day to be together here on the national mall of the united states. it is my distinct pleasure to welcome everyone to this dawning of a new era at the smithsonian institution today. today we open wide the doors of this museum to people in the nation's capital throughout america and across our world. the dream that so many envisioned is made real. several people who supported us along the way are here with us this morning, including john lewis, representative of georgia's fifth district and author of the original legislation to establish the museum. [ applause ] sam brownback, governor of
kansas and lead senate sponsor and co-author of the legislation. [ applause ] it is also my great honor to welcome former president and mrs. bush and president and mrs. obama. [ applause ] thank you all for your enthusiastic support of this endeavor. welcome as well to vice president joe biden and dr. jill biden. [ applause ] mr. vice president, i personally thank you for your work on our behalf as a member of the board of regents of the smithsonian and for your commitment of both of you to the smithsonian and to our newest museum. let me also recognize paul ryan, speaker of the house. [ applause ]
former president bill clinton. [ cheers and applause ] nancy pelosi, house democratic leader and representative of california's 12th district. [ applause ] eleanor holmes norton, delegate to the district of columbia. [ applause ] and muriel bowser, mayor of washington, d.c. [ applause ] and to the supreme court justices, members of the cabinet, members of congress, members of the diplomatic corps, foreign dignitaries and all the of our distinguished guests, welcome. thank you all for your tremendous support of the smithsonian and this museum of african-american history and
culture. like all of the smithsonian museums, this one truly belongs to the american people. a museum is many things. but two elements are most important the people who curate, preserve and interpret its stories and the collection itself. the incredible passion for this museum becomes evident when you find out about its collections. the majority of its nearly 37,000 objects, 3,000 of which are currently on display comes from individuals and families, memories passed down for generations, hung in attics, and on walls, displayed on coffee tables. yet the people who donated these personal mementos knew of their great power. the items displayed within the
walls of this museum reveal truth, profound truths, poignant truths and the universal truth that the african-american story is indivisible from the american story. [ applause ] that story is often resilient, triumphant and inspiring, but it is also tragic. the museum candidly confronts and interprets slavery and jim crow, legacies that haunt us to this day. because of its honesty, this museum will spark dialogue not just about our past but about our present. it will be an important part of the national conversation helping us to more effectively face our racial issues and divisions and move forward somehow together. this striking monument to african-american contributions
and citizenship, this national museum of african-american history and culture will help us in our common cause of building a more perfect union. to quote lincoln, it will strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds. congratulations to director lonnie bunch and to his staff for this remarkable, remarkable achievement and to the museum's council, the smithsonian regents and all of the staff who help make today possible. thank you. [ applause ] >> please welcome the vice chair of the board of regents of the smithsonian institution and president of rensselaer polytechnic institute, dr. shirley ann jackson. [ applause ]
>> good morning. it is a high honor for me to be here today. i began my life, my education, surrounded by the resources of our nation's capital, but in a segregated school, the people with the highest expectations for me, as a young african-american girl, were my parents. my mother taught my siblings and me to read before kindergarten. my father, very mechanically gifted, served in world war ii in a segregated army unit. during the normandy invasion, he repaired the rudders of the amphibious vehicles bringing the troops to shore which kept breaking. he did this under fireand for
that he received a bronze star. now my parents, born just 50 years after the end of the civil war, alone could not have carried me to the life i have had. without the confluence of two events that set me on a new trajectory and had the smithsonian institution not been here to potentiate that confluence. the first was the brown versus board of education supreme court decision which allowed me to attend integrated schools. instead of traveling miles across washington to segregated schools. the second event was the launch by the soviet union of sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite which ignited my interest in science and strengthened the math and science curriculum in the public
schools in the united states. in junior high school, i was tested and placed in an accelerated honors program which led me to m.i.t. where i was one of only two african-american women in my class, the first ever. now, my great fortune was having the smithsonian as an extension of my classrooms. it opened my eyes to the wonders of the natural world and to science. its art and cultural resources allowed me to understand other eras, other places, other lives. it developed my empathy, imagination, and sophistication. it took a young girl not from a wealthy background, from a segregated environment and enriched and ennobled her life immeasurably.
today we arrive at another great moment of confluence when the smithsonian institution launches a museum where the history, culture, and the heroism of african-americans like my father, like congressman john lewis, like our president barack obama and others are recognized fully, constituted a great tributary, feeding the larger stream of our national story. now, this is so meaningful for me and for millions like me to see the full story of the people who came here enslaved yet lifted so many others up and ultimately themselves. we do a very great thing today for the millions of children
from all over the nation and from around the globe who will come to the national museum of african-american history and culture, be moved and astonish and emerge with an elevated sense of their own heritage, their own prospects, their own potential. my father always says, aim for the stars. that's what he told us. to at least reach the treetops and you be sure to get off the ground. i took his advise, and many african-americans have aimed high, and their achievements, large and small, now are given a place of honor here on the national mall. on behalf of the board of regents of the smithsonian institution i thank all of you
for being here. i thank all of those who brought this to reality. i, too, sing america. thank you. [ applause ] >> ladies and gentlemen, angela basset and robert de niro. [ applause ] >> from the time african-americans were brought to these shores in slave ships, they have written down -- sometimes in secret, sometimes in the open air -- their hurts and heartaches, their joys and the music inside. this is what they said. >> frederick douglass, statesman, abolitionist and escaped slave said this, "there
is but one destiny, it seems to me, left for us, and that is to make ourselves and be made by others a part of the american people in every sense of the word. the way to right wrongs is to turn the light off of truth upon them, one had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog." >> so said ida b. wells, journalist, crusader, former slave and one of the founders of the naacp. >> muhammad ali came off the ropes in the eighth round in zaire. he shook the world by speaking truth to power. this is what he said. "champions aren't made in gyms. champions are made from something they have deep inside them -- a desire, a dream, a vision. they have to have the last minute of stamina. they have to be a little faster.
they have to have the skill and the will, but the will must be stronger than the skill." >> when they asked her why she didn't give up her seat on the bus when they told her to, rosa parks said this. "i wasn't tired physically. i wasn't old. i was 42. no, the only tired i was, was tired of giving in." >> i believe that if one can experience diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies and attempt to synthesize all this inside one's self without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call one's self citizen of the united states. so wrote the pulitzer prize-winning author james alan mcpherson.
>> congressman john lewis, who at 21 was one of the 13 original freedom riders, said this. "we may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us. ours is not a struggle that lasts a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or a few years. it is the struggle of a lifetime." thank you. [ applause ] >> please welcome u.s. representative of the fifth congressional district of georgia, john lewis. [ applause ]
>> president and mrs. obama, vice president biden, dr. jill biden, president and mrs. bush, president clinton, mr. chief justice and members of the board of regents, to the museum advisory council, secretary davis skorton and dr. lonnie bunch, to the leadership of the united states congress and all of my colleagues in both the house and senate, in memory of the late representative of texas, the architects of this incredible building and to all of the staff of the white house, the federal agencies, the congress, the smithsonian who pushed and pulled together to make this moment happen, and to all of the construction companies and their crews, i say thank you. thank you for all you did to
help lead our society to this magnificent day. as long as there is a united states of america now there will be a national museum of african-american history and culture. [ applause ] this is a great achievement. i tell you, i feel like singing the song mahalia jackson sung at the march on washington over 50 years ago, "how we got over. how we got over." there were some who said it couldn't happen. who said you can't do it, but we did it. we did it. we gather here today to dedicate a building, but this place is more than a building.
it is a dream come true. you and i, each and every one of us were caught up in a seed of light. we were a vision born in the minds of black civil war veterans and their supporters. they met right here in washington, d.c., in 1916, exactly 100 years ago at the 19th street baptist church, still in existence today. see what a dream can do? if you can roll up the sleeves of those veterans, you might find the wounds of shackles and whips. most could not read the declaration of independence or write their own names.
but in their hearts burned an enduring vision of true democracy that no threat of death could ever erase. they understood the meaning of their contribution. they set a possibility in motion, passing down through the ages from heart to heart and breath to breath. we have given birth today to this museum, and it is a testament to the dignity of the dispossessed in every corner of the globe who yearned for freedom. it's a song to the scholars and scribes, scientists and teachers, to the revolutionaries and the voices of protests. to the ministers in the office of peace. it is a story of life, the story of our lives wrapped up in a
beautiful golden crown of grace. i can hear the distant voice of our ancestors whispering by the night, steal away home, we ain't got long to stay here. a big, bold cry shouting, i woke up this morning with my mind standing on freedom. oh, their voices roaming for centuries have finally found their home here in this great monument. to our pain, our suffering, and our victory. 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, they'd cut out photographs and pictures of great african-americans for the negro history week. now called 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 will be enshrined in this museum. as these doors open, it is my hope that each and every person who visits this beautiful museum will walk away deeply inspired, filled with a greater respect for the dignity and the worth of every human being and a stronger commitment to the idea of justice, equality, and true democracy. thank you. [ applause ]
>> ladies and gentlemen, former first lady of the united states mrs. laura bush. [ applause ] >> i'm thrilled to be here today. this is such a really terrific day. on december 16th, 2003, president george w. bush authorized the legislation for the establishment of a new smithsonian museum, the national museum of african-american history and culture. [ applause ]
when i toured the museum with dr. lonnie bunch last week, we reminisced about those beginning days of the museum. the legislation had been authorized. the site had been secured. lonnie had been hired as the museum's director. i'll never forget lonnie's poignant words when we considered the historic and cultural significance of what was to become. lonnie paused for dramatic effect -- or so i thought -- and then said, "what do we do now?" lonnie, look what you've done. [ applause ] you and your team have truly achieved a monumental achievement. congratulations. our next speaker signed the legislation and assured the museum's place on the national mall, my husband, president george w. bush.
[ applause ] >> thank you all. thank you, darling. [ laughter ] laura's been very much engaged in this museum for a long time. she sits on the board, and we're honored to be here. my first reaction is i hope all our fellow citizens come and look at this place. it is fabulous. mr. president and first lady, vice president, chief justice, david, thank you very much, the board. i want to give a shout out to lonnie. it's really important to understand this project would
not and could not have happened without his drive, his energy, and his optimism. [ applause ] as laura mentioned, 15 years ago, members from both parties, congressman john lewis and sam brownback, then senator from kansas, informed me that they were about to introduce legislation creating a new museum to share the stories and celebrate the achievements of african-americans. it would be fair to say that the congress and i didn't always see eye to eye -- if you know what i mean, mr. president. [ laughter ] but this is one issue where we strongly agreed. i was honored to sign the bill authorizing the construction of this national treasure, and i'm pleased it now stands where it has always belonged, on the national mall.
[ applause ] this museum is an important addition to our country for many reasons. here are three. first, it shows our commitment to truth. a great nation does not hide its history. it faces its flaws and corrects them. [ applause ] this museum tells the truth that a country founded on the promise of liberty held millions in chains. that the price of our union was america's original sin. from the beginning, some spoke the truth. john adams who called slavery an evil of colossal magnitude. their voices were not heeded and often not heard. but they were always known to a
power greater than any on earth, one who loves his children and meant them to be free. second, this museum shows america's capacity to change. for centuries, slavery and segregation seemed permanent. personalent in parts of our national life, but not to nat turner or frederick douglass, harriet tubman, rosa parks or martin luther king, jr. all answered cruelty with courage and hope. in the society governed by the people no wrong lasts forever. after struggle and sacrifice, the american people acting through the most democratic of means amended the constitution that originally treated slaves as three-fifths of a person to guarantee equal protection of the laws. after a decade of struggle, civil rights acts and voting rights acts were finally enacted.
even today the journey towards justice is still not complete, but this museum will inspire us to go farther and get there faster. and finally, the museum showcases the talent of some of our finest americans. the galleries celebrate not only african-american equality but african-american greatness. i can't help but note that -- [ applause ] i cannot help but note that a huge influence in my teenage years is honored here, the great chuck berry. or my baseball idol growing up in far west texas, the great willie mays. and, of course something i never really mastered, the ability to give a good speech but thurgood marshall sure could. as some of you may know, i'm a
fledgling painter, a struggling artist. i have a new appreciation for the artist whose brilliant works are displayed here, people like robert duncanson, henry oswald tanner, charles henry austin. our country is better and more vibrant because of their contributions and the contributions of millions of african-americans. no telling of american history is neither complete nor accurate without acknowledging them. the lesson of this museum is that all americans share a past and a future. by staying true to our principles, righting injustice and encouraging the empowerment of all, we will be an even greater nation for generations to come. i congratulate all those who played a role in creating this wonderful museum. may god bless us all. [ applause ]
i was born blind, but i was blessed with inner vision. inner vision sees what we all know and feel, and i know and feel that we must all come together. this cannot go on, all of it, any of it. it just can't go on. all of the back-and-forth, the hatred, trying to divide us as a united people of the united states of america. other countries getting involved in our business. no. it can't go on. history has shown us that we can rise. we can climb higher from all these moments that should never
define us but remind us that we can come together as we have, as we can and as we will. as you claim the stairs of this magnificent testament, as you visit the story of a people, of a country, of a spirit, remember our strength. remember our courage. know that we must come together. we must come together. think about that. and as you think, can i ask all of you one question? just one question that only you can answer. my question is, where is our love song?
oh how we need those words of hope ♪ ♪ not the kind of hope that leaves others behind ♪ ♪ but the kind of hope that lifts up all humankind ♪ ♪ where our words, our desperately needed words of hope ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ guess the words we're singing will have to sing them forevermore ♪ ♪ because by our ways and actions it's like you've never heard them said before ♪ ♪
the chief justice of the united states, john g. roberts jr. [ applause ] >> thank you, lonnie, for scheduling me right after stevie wonder. supreme court decisions such as dred scott versus sanford, plessy versus ferguson, and brown versus board of education document shame and hope along the road to equal justice under law. this museum provides a place for us to learn what life was like for the brave individuals who brought those cases to the supreme court. you can see the tragedy of dred and harriet scott in the 1840s broadside offering cash for the return of fugitive slaves.
dred scott had traveled widely throughout the united states with his owner. he met and married harriet in what is now minnesota. they had two daughters. when his owner died, he tried to purchase his and his family's freedom with money he had struggled his whole life to accumulate. but the owner's widow turned him down. only then did he turn to the courts. with the supreme court ruling that he and his family were not even persons under the constitution. you can see the bravery of homer plessy against the backdrop of the pullman railroad car on display. homer plessy was a fair-skinned
man of mixed racial ancestry. that's how he was able to purchase a ticket for the whites only first class compartment. but when the conductor came to collect his ticket, homer plessy announced that under louisiana law, he was a black man. and he set in process the test case challenging jim crow laws. a test that the supreme court would fail. and you can grasp the wrenching dilemma facing oliver and leolah brown. in the photograph of five young african-american women outside their segregated school. how do you balance a hope for a better life for your 11-year-old daughter against real fear for her personal safety? but oliver and leola brown were people of strong faith. he was assistant pastor at his church. together, they made the choice
to enrollin da in the whites only school. and together, they changed the world. you can read the court's decision in dred scott versus sanford, in plessy versus ferguson, and in brown versus board of education. and learn what the court held. but if you want to know what those cases were about, you need to meet dred and harriet scott. plessy and oliver and leolag brown. and you can do that in this new museum. thank you. [ applause ] ladies and gentlemen, advisory council members for the national museum of african-american history and culture ken chenault
friends, it is an honor and privilege to stand with you today like everyone who served on the advise council i feel a great sense of pride when i look at this magnificent building and when i think about what it represents to everyone at the smithsonian,ing to lonnie bunch and his electric team, i thank you for bringing this dream to reality. [ applause ] to the individual donors, to the foundations, and to the corporations who provided financial support, i thank you. the doors will open here today because of the tremendous support that came from all americans. black, white, all colors, nationalities and religions, rich and poor, the famous and at family next door. our calls for help was answered
by so many because so many believed that this could be a museum for all americans. and you will not be disappointed. it captures by definition the history and culture of african-americans. [ applause ] it will share stories of struggle and success. those who died for freedom and those who paved the way for others to follow. it will celebrate great achievements against great odds. it will remind us of the power of dreams and faith. it will caution us that more
work lies ahead. and that the road will not be an easy one. but as a museum for all americans, it will also remind us that what brings us together is stronger than what keeps us apart. thank you. [ applause ] our emotions today come not only from being officials who were lucky enough to help play a part but from being the sons and daughters of those who is came before us. we've come to thank our brave ancestors who are inside this museum. and in a more personal way, to thank our own families whose courage and tenacity set us on our way. my father, john h. johnson, left arkansas because there was no high school education and few opportunities for him or for his
mother. they moved to chicago where he was teased for his raggedy clothes, but his mind wasblaze with new ideas such as if white readers love live magazines wouldn't black readers love to read something about their own lives and aspirations? together, with my mother, eunice w. johnson, they went on to create are the most successful magazines devoted to black life "ebony" and "jet." they allowed us to see ourselves in ways we never had before, to make us proud of who we are, what we've done, and can do. they reflected a full
cross-section of black america, delivered by our best thinkers, trendsetters, activists, celebrities and next generation leaders. more than just magazines, they ignited conversation and became a catalyst for progress and pride. i am overwhelmed by what is happening here on avenue -- the avenues of history. the strong, magnificent building, and within it not just our stories of our struggles and our challenges, but of the decades really the centuries of african-american contributions from all walks of life. today is a chance for me to share with my daughter and your families the rich legacy we all come from that has left a glorious imprint on the culture of america and on the world.
thank you. [ applause ] ladies and gentlemen, oprah winfrey and will smith. [ applause ] >> wave at them over there, oprah. >> over there, people over there. hi, everybody. the story of the african-american journey in their own words, this is what they said. history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived but a
face with courage need not be lived again. maya angelou. [ applause ] >> did you just challenge me to a poetry battle? all right. langston hughs called the poem "harlem." what happens to a dream deferred? does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run? does it stink like rotten meat or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? maybe it just sags like a heavy load or does it explode? >> i have been in sorrow's kitchen, and i licked out all the pots. then i stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows with a harp and a sword in high
hands. sometimes i feel discriminated against, but it doesn't make me angry. it merely astonishes me. how can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? it's beyond me. so wrote zora neale hurston austin, a harlem in the renaissance. we love zora. >> that was hot, that was hot. what are the blues? they are homegrown black music that acknowledged the tenuous nature of all human existence. an heroic response to what is called the human condition. we invented the blues. europeans invented psychoanalysis. you invent what you need. albert murray wrote that.
[ applause ] >> okay. so here's one of my favorites. toni morrison. the winner of the nobel prize for literature. >> yes. >> said this. if there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must be the one to write it. toni morrison. >> yes, toni morrison. >> said that. >> then she wrote right after that. >> you got hot stuff. yours are really hot. >> change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability. but it comes through continuous struggle. and so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. a man cannot ride your back unless your back is bent. so said dr. martin luther king jr.
go downtown, my friends keep telling me, patti, patti, don't hang around ♪ ♪ oh, it's been a long, a long time coming, but i know a change going to come oh, yes, it will ♪ ♪ then i go to my brother, i said brother, brother, help me, please ♪ ♪ and my brother he winds up knocking me, back down on my knees ♪
[ applause ] >> please welcome founding director of the national museum of african-american history and culture, lonnie bunch. thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you. thank you. today, a dream long deferred is a dream no longer. [ applause ] what a grand and glorious day to open a museum that will not just
tell of a people's journey but also of a nation's story. it's hard for me to believe that we are at this moment where we as a nation will finally fulfill the expectations and hopes of so many generations who believed and labored for a presence on the national mall that would help all americans realize how much they've been shaped informed and made better by the african-american experience. we are here at this moment because of the commitment and support of so many of you here and thousands of others of corporations, individuals and foundations who believed that the time had come for the creation of the national museum of african-american history and
culture. the diversity of the funding that has supported this endeavor speaks volumes about the generosity and good will of america. we are so moved by the more than 100,000 people who have become members of the museum who showed me their card and paid $25. i got to tell you, we are at this moment because of the backing of the united states congress and the white house. i cannot thank president and mrs. obama and president and mrs. bush enough for all that you've done to bring this museum to fruition. [ applause ] it truly took an institution to build the national museum. we are indebted to smithsonian institution whose leadership from the regions, through former secretaries, larry small and wayne clough, to the current secretary david skorton have never wavered in their support of this museum. a crucial component that brought us to this moment is the staff of the museum. fib the sports analogy, but they are the dream team. they are better than the '61
yankees and the '85 bears. [ applause ] you honor them by your presence today because they are the best. but i have to tell you, the foundation, the bedrock of this museum has been the council, our board of trustees under the leadership of dick parsons and lynn sa johnson rice and ken chenault, they have guided all aspects of the museum's development. they helped to steady a shaky director and they used their considerable influence to insure a successful campaign. i'd like to ask the council to stand and be recognized. [ applause ] without your effort, there would
not be a museum. obviously, others played a key role in this endeavor. the first was the presidential commission co-chaired by robert wright and claudine brown which established the blueprint for the museum. also essential was the scholarly advisory committee that was chaired by the great john hope franklin who provided much of the intellectual guidance for the museum. [ applause ] and i would be remiss if i didn't acknowledge the architectural creativity that's behind us of the freeland adjaye bond smith group collaboration. thank you. [ applause ] this collaboration created by max bond benefited from phil freeland's leadership in the wonderful design of david adjaye. so thank you all so much what you've given us. and we're fortunate enough to have exhibits designed by ralph
and associates but i want to thank all the amazing workers who in the process of construction soon realized that this was their building, this was their history, as well. and i need to take a personal moment and thank my family so i can go home. they have lived with every moment of this job for more than a decade. my mother is here. thank you, mom. my wife maria, my daughters katie and sarah, my son-in-law chutley and the love of my life, my granddaughter, harper grace. thank you all so much. it means a lot to me. >> recently, i was asked by a journalist, did we really believe we have could create a museum that had been in the planning for more than a century. how could we not believe whether he we can dip into the reservoir that is african-american
history. we believe because the enslaved dreamed a world of freedom that once seemed impossible. we believed because ella baker and fanny lew haimer had faith in an america that did not believe in them. how could we not believe when hearing the words of idab. wells or malcolm or martin? we had to believe because of the audacity and the beauty of jackie robinson stealing home. and how could we not believe when hundreds of families in this country opened their houses entrusted us with their artifacts, their stories. we believe because george w. bush said this museum must be on the national mall. thank you. [ applause ] and we believe because a senator from chicago told us yes, we can. but today is bittersweet for me when i think about those who
began this endeavor with us but how are no longer here. we miss john hope franklin and clem price and claudine brown and evelyn lieberman and max bond. we miss kinshasha bond and my dad. but whenever i look at the museum, i don't simply see steel, glass and concrete. i feel the spirit, the hopes and the strengths of those who went before and upon whose shoulders we stand. it is those memories that breathe life into this building. because when i look at this museum, i realize it's a clarian call to remember. to remember not just the well-known but also those famous only to their families whose lives in quiet ways shaped this nation. we remember so we can ponder the pain of slavery, segregation and second class citizenry but we also find the resiliency, the
faith, the hope, the joy that is so much a part of the african-american community. we remember to draw sustenance, inspiration, courage from a people's commitment to help america to, challenge america to live up to its stated ideals. we remember not out of nostalgia but out of a country's need especially today for the contextulization and contemporary clarity that comes from understanding an unvarnished history and maybe, just maybe, that understanding can help america find a bit of healing and reconciliation. we remember so all who encounter the museum will understand american history through an african-american lens and realize just how central african-american history and culture is to america's sense of self. 11 years ago, we began then trek full of trepidation and motivated by a desire tore complete a journey that began 100 years ago.
so for 11 years, we have dreamed, prayed, toiled for this day. but what kept us going was the way people stopped us on the street just to say thank you. two months ago, i was standing on a corner here just before sunrise because i wanted to see how the building would look. there was an elderly man standing on the corner. when i turned in his direction, he was bent over sobbing. i asked if he was sick. and all he could say to me was that he was so proud that he lived long enough to see the birth there museum. so on behalf of that man, i thank you, i thank you because of your support for this museum. >> you've given two gifts. the first is a gift to america. thanks to your commitment and belief, we've guaranteed that as long as there's an america, this museum will educate, engage, and ensure a fuller story of our country will be told on the national mall. but you've also quite candidly
given a gift to me. i am so honored and humbled to be part of a group of people to build this museum. thanks to you, i've had the time of my life. ultimately, this museum, we believe there is nothing more powerful than a people, than a nation steeped in its history and there is nothing more noble than honoring all of our ancestors by remembering. so let me conclude by simply saying, welcome home. [ applause ]
while the tale of how we suffer and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard." for while the tale of how we suffer and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. today, as so many generations have before, we gather on our national mall to tell an essential part of our american story. one that has at times been overlooked. we come not just for today but
for all time. president and mrs. bush, president clinton, vice president and dr. biden, chief justice roberts, secretary skorton, reverend butts, distinguished guests, thank you. thank you for your leadership and making sure this tale is told. we're here in part because of you and because of all those americans. civil war vets, the civil rights foot soldiers, the champions of this effort on capitol hill who for more than a century kept the dream of this museum alive. that includes our leaders from congress, paul ryan, nancy pelosi, it includes one of my heroes, john lewis who as he has so often took the torch from
those who came before him and brought us past the finish line. it includes the philanthropists and benefactors and advisory members who have so generously given not only their money but their time. it includes the americans who offered up all the family keepsakes tucked away in grandma's attic. and, of course, it includes a man without whose vision and passion and persistence we would not be here today, mr. lonnie bunch. [ applause ] what we can see of this building, the towering glass, the artistry of the metal work is surely a sight to behold. but beyond the majesty of the building, what makes this
occasion so special is the larger story it contains. below us, this building reaches down 70 feet. its root spreading far wider and deeper than any tree on this mall and on its lowest level, after you walk past remnants of a slave ship, after you reflect on the immortal declaration that all men are created equal, you can see a block of stone. on top of the stone sits a historical marker weathered by the ages. and that marker reads, general andrew jackson and henry clay spoke from this slave block
during the year 1830. i want you to think about this. consider what this artifact tells us about history. about how it's told. and about what can be cast aside. on a stone where day after day, for years, men and women were torn from their spouse or their child, shackled, and bound, and bought, and sold, and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. for a long time, the only thing
we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque were the memorable speeches of two powerful men. and that block i think explains why this museum is so necessary. because that same object framed put in context tells us so much more. as americans, we rightfully pass on the tales of the giants who built this country, who led armies into battle, who waged seminal debates in the halls of congress in the corridors of
power but too often, we ignored or forgot the stories of millions upon millions of others who built this nation just as surely, whose humble eloquence, whose calloused hands, whose steady drive helped to create cities. erect industries. build the arsenals of democracy. and so this national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are. it helps us better understand the lives, yes, of 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. the teacher or the cook alongside the statesman. and by knowing this other story, we better understand ourselves and each other. it binds us together. and reaffirms that all of us are american, that african-american history is not somehow separate from our larger american story.
it's not the underside of the american story. it is central to the american story. that our glory derives not just from our most obvious triumphs but how we rested triumph from tragedy and how we have been able to remake ourselves. again, and again and again. in accordance with our highest ideals. i, too, am american. a great historian john hope franklin who helped to get this museum started once said, good history is a good foundation for a better present and future. he understood the best history
doesn't just sit behind a glass case. it helps us to understand what's outside the case. the best history helps us recognize the mistakes that we've made and the dark corners can of the human spirit that we need to guard against and yes, a clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable. it will shake us out of familiar narratives. but 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. of wandering in the wilderness and then seeing out on the horizon a glimmer of the promised land. it is in this embrace of truth as best as we can know it in the celebration of the entire american experience where real patriotism lies. as president bush just said, a great nation doesn't shy from the truth. it strengthens us. it emboldens us. it will should forty phi us. it is an act of patriotism to understand where we've been. and this museum tells the story
of so many patriots. yes, african-americans have felt the cold weight of shackles and the stinging lash of the field whip, but we've also dared to run north and sing songs from harriet tubman's hymnal. we've buttoned up our union blues to join the fight for our freedom. we've railed against injustice. for decade upon decade, a lifetime of struggle and progress and enlightenment that we see etched in frederick douglass's mighty leonine gaze. yes, this museum tells a story of people who felt the indignity, the small and large
humiliations of a whites only sign or wept at the side of emmett till's coffin. or fell to their knees on shards of stained glass outside a church where four little girls died. but it also tells the story of the black and white youth sitting alongside each other straight backed, so full of dignity on those lunch counter stools. the story of 6-year-old rub by bridges, pig tails. fresh pressed dress. walking that gauntlet to get to school. tuskegee airmen soaring the skies not just to beat a dictator but to reaffirm the promise of our democracy and remind us that all of us are created sequel. this is the place to understand how protests and love of country
don't merely coexist but inform each other. how men can proudly win the gold for their country but still insist on raising a black globed fist. how we can wear and i can't breathe t-shirt and still grieve for fallen police officers. here's the america where the razor sharp uniform of the chairman of the joint chiefs can of staff belonged alongside the cape of the godfather of soul. we have shown the world we can float like butterflies and sting like bees. that we can rocket into space like mae jemison and steal home
like jackie. rock like jimi, stir the pot like richard pryor. and we can be sick and tired of being sick and tired like fanny lew haimer and still rock steady like aretha franklin. we are large, walt whitman told us, containing multitudes. we are large containing multitudes full of contradictions. that's america. that's what makes us go. that's what makes us extraordinary. and as is true for america, so is true for the african-american
history. we're not a burden on america. or a stain on america or an object of pity or charity for america. we're america. [ applause ] and that's what this museum explains. the fact that our stories have shape every corner of our culture. the struggles for freedom that took place made our constitution a real and living document. tested and shaped and deepened and made more profound its meaning for all people. the story told mere doesn't just belong to black americans. it belongs to all americans for the african-american experience
has been shaned just as much by europeans and asians and native americans and tinos. we have informed each other. we are polyglot, astute. scripture promised that if we lift up the oppressed, that our light will rise in the darkness and our night will become like the noon day. and story contained in this museum makes those words
prophecy. and that's what this day is about. that's what this museum is about. i too am american. it is a glorious story. the one that's told here. it is complicated and it is messy and it is full of contradictions as all great stories are. as shakespeare is, as scripture is, and it's a story that perhaps needs to be told now more than ever. a museum alone will not alleviate poverty in every inner city or every rural hamlet. it won't eliminate gun violence from all our neighborhoods. or immediately ensure that
justice is always color blind. it won't wipe away every instance of discrimination in a job interview or a sentencing hearing or folks trying to rent an apartment. those things are up to us, the decisions and choices we make. it requires speaking out and organizing and voting until our values are fully reflected in our laws be and our poses and our communities. but what this museum does show us is that even in the face of oppression, even in the face of unimaginable difficulty, america has moved forward. and so this museum provides contexts for debates of our times. it will illuminates them. and gives us some sense of how they evolved.
and perhaps keeps them in proportion. perhaps it can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators in places like ferguson and charlotte. but it can also help black visitors appreciate the fact that not only is this younger generation carrying on traditions of the past but within the white communities across the nation, we see the sincerity of law enforcement officers and officials who in fits and starts are struggling to understand and are trying to do the right thing. it reminds us that routine discrimination and jim crow
aren't ancient history. it's just a blink in the eye of history. it was just yesterday and so we should not be surprised that not all the healing is done. we shouldn't despair that it's not all solved. and knowing the larger story should instead remind us just how remarkable the changes that have taken place truly are just in my lifetime. and therefore, inspire us to further progress. and so hopefully, this museum can help us talk to each other. and more importantly, listen to each other. and most importantly, see each other.
black and white and latino and native american and asian-american. see how our stories are bound together. and bound together with women in america. and workers in america. and entrepreneurs in america and lgbt americans. and for young people who didn't live through the struggles represented here, i hope you draw strength from the changes that have taken place. come here and see the power of your own agency. see how young john lewis was. these were children who transformed a nation. in a blink of an eye.
young people come here and see your ability to make your mark. the very fact of this day does not problem that america's perfect. but it does validate the ideas of our founding. that this country born of change this country born of revolution, this country of we the people, this country can get better. and that's why we celebrate, mindful that our work is not yet done, mindful that we are but on a way station on this common journey towards freedom, and how
glorious it is that we enshrine it here on some of our nation's most hallowed ground. the same place where live were once traded but also where hundreds of thousands of americans of all colors and creeds once marched, how joyful it is that this story takes its rightful place alongside jefferson who declared our independence and washington who made it real and alongside lincoln who saved our union. and the gis who defended it. alongside a new monument to a king gazing outward, summoning us towards that mountain top. how righteous it is that we tell this story here. for almost eight years, i have been blessed with the extraordinary honor of serving you in this office and time and
again -- [ applause ] time and again, i've flown low over this mall on marine one. often with michele and our daughters. and president clinton, president bush, laura, they'll tell you, it is an incredible sight. you pass right across the washington monument, feels like you can reach out and touch it. and at night, if you turn the other way, you don't just see the lincoln memorial, old abe is lit up. and you can see him. his spirit glowing from that building. and we don't have many trips left. but over the years, i have
always been comforted as i have watched this museum rise from this earth into this remarkable tribute because i know that years from now, like all of you, michelle and i will be able to come here to this museum and not just bring our kids but hopefully our grandkids. i imagine holding a little hand of somebody and tell them the stories that are enshrined here. and in the years that follow, they'll be able to do the same. and then we'll go to the lincoln memorial. and we'll take a view atop the washington monument. and together, we'll learn about ourselves as americans. our sufferings, our delights,
and our triumphs. and we'll walk away better for it. better because we better grasped the truth. we'll walk away that much more in love with this country. the only place on earth where this story could have unfolded. [ applause ] it is a monument no less than the others on this mall to the deep and abiding love for this country and the ideals upon which it is founded. for we too are america.
so enough talk. president bush was timing me. he had the over/under at 25. let us now open this museum to the world. today we have with us a family that reflects the arc of our progress. the bonner family. four generations in all. starting with gorgeous 7-year-old christine and going up to gorgeous 99-year-old ruth. [ applause ] now, ruth's father elijah odom, was born into servitude in mississippi. he was born a slave.
as a young boy, he ran though to his freedom. he lived through reconstruction and he lived through jim crow. but he went on to farm and graduate from medical school. and gave life to the beautiful family that we see today with a spirit reflected in beautiful christine. free and equal in the laws of her country and in the eyes of god. so in a brief moment, their family will join us in ringing a bell from the first baptist church in virginia, one of the oldest black churches in america founded under a grove of trees in 1776. and the sound of this bell will be echoed by others in houses of worship and town squares all across this country.