It took 100 years after it was originally proposed for the National Museum of African American History and Culture to be built, and 13 years after it was approved by Congress to open. Both President Obama and President George W. Bush spoke at the opening on Saturday.
President Obama gave a rousing speech on the importance of the museum and its focus on the oft-erased histories of African-Americans.
‘We are not a burden on America, or a stain on America, or an object of pity or charity for America. We are America. And that’s what this museum explains […] Hopefully this museum can help us talk to each other, and more importantly listen to each other, and most importantly, see each other.’
Former President George W. Bush, who signed the bill approving its building 13 years ago, spoke to a particular issue around civil rights movements and protests across the country.
‘A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws, and corrects them. 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.’
It was an excellent speech at a historic moment, relevant to discussions of race happening today. Too often, those on the right try to silence protests and discredit movements around racial equality, calling them “divisive” and “race-baiting.” Just as we should never have been silent at the injustice of slavery, we can not be silent now about police brutality against people of color. It cannot take us 200 years to right that wrong.
The juxtaposition between the historic progress shown in the opening of the museum and the protests still happening in Charlotte, North Carolina, today over the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by police is jarring. While both presidents said they had high hopes that the museum would be unifying, unity seems a distant and impossible dream while American citizens still have to protest the injustices perpetrated against them by systems meant to protect and serve them.
While the National Museum of African American History and Culture is certainly a landmark worth celebrating, there is still much work to be done.
See President Bush’s full speech below:
Featured image screengrab via YouTube