News

A Museum of Black History

President Obama celebrates the construction of an African-American history museum in Washington, D.C.

February 22, 2012
CHARLES DHARAPAK—AP

President Barack Obama speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., on February 22.

President Barack Obama celebrated the start of construction on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in Washington, D.C., at a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday. The new museum will tell a detailed history of black life, art and culture in the country. It will be “not just a record of tragedy, but a celebration of life," Obama said in a speech at the event.

This drawing shows the design of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, now under construction.
JACQUELYN MARTIN—AP
This drawing shows the design of the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, now under construction.

The museum will be built between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History on the National Mall. It will be the 19th museum in the Smithsonian Institute. The seven-level building’s bronze design was inspired by African-American metalwork from New Orleans, Louisiana and Charleston, South Carolina.

President Obama was joined on stage by First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush. He spoke about the importance of the museum’s location in the nation’s capital. "It was on this ground long ago that lives were once traded, where hundreds of thousands once marched for jobs and for freedom," Obama said. "It was here that the pillars of democracy were built, often by black hands."

A Long Time Coming

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as officials—including former First Lady Laura Bush (third from left)—ceremonially break ground for the new museum.
KEVIN LAMARQUE—REUTERS
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as officials—including former First Lady Laura Bush (second from left)—ceremonially break ground for the new museum.

Black veterans of the Civil War  and other leaders first called for a national museum devoted to black history in 1915, but it remained unfunded. Finally, in 2003, Congress pledged to provide half of the $500 million construction cost for the museum. The rest will be raised through public and private funds.

The museum is scheduled to open in 2015, but curators have already collected thousands of artifacts. Some are on display in a gallery at the Smithsonian’s American history museum, including a current exhibit about Thomas Jefferson and the slave families that lives on his Monticello plantation in Virginia.

Collected artifacts include musician Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, a plane used to train Tuskegee Airmen, activist Harriet Tubman’s shawl, a fedora worn by entertainer Michael Jackson and a dress made by Rosa Parks. The curators will choose from about 35,000 artifacts to create the museum’s permanent galleries, which will include spaces devoted to sports and military history.

President Obama spoke about how he wants his daughters and other children to experience the museum. “I want them to see how ordinary Americans could do extraordinary things, how men and women just like them had the courage and determination to right a wrong,” he said.

February is Black History Month. Click here to learn more.


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