Watch Obama's Speech From The National African American History Museum Opening — VIDEO
The first U.S. national museum dedicated to African-American history opened Sept. 24 by perhaps the most fitting figure: the nation's first black president. At the grand opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History, President Barack Obama gave a powerful speech, hailing the narrative told through the museum's 12 inaugural exhibits as one that helps paint a richer and fuller picture of America at a time when greater understanding and reconciliation are so desperately needed.
"This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are," Obama said in his speech at the museum's opening in Washington, D.C. "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."
Citing how fundamental African-American history is to that of America overall, the president stressed how essential understanding and acknowledging that history is to enriching our national identity and promoting greater understanding. "By knowing this other story, we better understand ourselves and each other," he said. "It binds us together. It 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've wrested triumph from tragedy."
Obama emphasized that although parts of our nation's history can (and, let's be honest, probably should) make us uncomfortable, it is from that discomfort that we learn and grow and improve. "It is in this embrace of truth as best as we can know it and the celebration of the entire American experience where real patriotism lies," Obama said before touching on recent events that sparked and continue to fuel movements like Black Lives Matter.
The president went on to say he felt the stories told by the museum was one "that perhaps needs to be told now more than ever" and that he hoped it would foster reconciliation and heal racial tensions.
Perhaps they 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.
The opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History was a long time coming, more than 100 years in fact. The museum was first proposed by African-American Civil War veterans in 1915, but no action was taken on the issue until 2003 when President George W. Bush signed a bill authorizing construction. It's a long overdue addition to the National Mall, but a welcome one.