Bloomberg News

Obama Says African-American History Museum a ‘Long Time Coming’

February 22, 2012

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama broke ground today for the Smithsonian Institution’s only museum dedicated to the history of African-Americans, saying it will be “a monument for all time.”

“This day has been a long time coming,” Obama, the first black president of the U.S., said at a ceremony on the National Mall. The museum will serve “not just as a record of tragedy but as a celebration of life,” he said.

Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, will document African-American life, art, history and culture. It’s scheduled to open in 2015.

Obama was joined by former first lady Laura Bush at the event hosted by actress Phylicia Rashad of television’s “The Cosby Show.”

The museum, created by Congress in 2003, will be built on a five-acre site at a cost about $500 million, half of it funded by taxpayers and the remainder from donations.

Its exhibits will cover all aspects of African-American life in America, from the era of slavery and the period of Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Stories will be illustrated through research, exhibitions and programs.

The story of the past 400 years must be told “from slavery to the president, without anger or apology,” said U.S. Representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who is a veteran of the civil rights movement and was among the speakers at today’s ceremony.

American ‘Triumph’

The museum “isn’t an attempt to pay back” for injustices, said Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who as a Republican U.S. senator sponsored legislation establishing the museum. Rather, he said, it represents “a triumph of the African-American people” and will enable American grandchildren “to see the triumph of great Americans.”

The museum’s collection will represent all regions of the U.S., with artifacts and artwork reflecting historic and cultural links to Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Canada, according to the Smithsonian. The museum will also feature photographs, movies, archival documents, electronic data, audio recordings, books and manuscripts.

Among the 25,000 items in the collection is the dress Rosa Parks was making shortly before her arrest in 1955 for not giving up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Also included are entertainer Michael Jackson’s fedora from his 1992 “Victory Tour” and a $600 bill of sale of a 16-year-old girl as a slave in Jackson County, Arkansas, in 1835.

The current Museum of African American History and Culture is located on the second floor of the National Museum of American History and now features a display on slavery and “Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.”

Private donations for the new museum have come from Aflac Inc., Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Boeing Co., International Business Machines Corp. and the Metropolitan Life Foundation, according to the Smithsonian’s website.

--Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Leslie Hoffecker

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Komarow at

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