Obama opens African American museum amid strife

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hailed the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Saturday, a long-awaited institution dedicated to the many threads of black suffering and triumph in the United States.

The first black president of the United States cut the ribbon to inaugurate the striking 37,000sq m bronze-clad edifice before thousands of spectators gathered in the US capital to witness the historic opening, at a time of growing racial friction.

“Beyond the majesty of the building, what makes this occasion so special is the larger story it contains,” said Obama — just a few months before he leaves office — at the star-studded public ceremony that included the likes of Stevie Wonder and Oprah Winfrey.

“African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story. It’s not the underside of the American story,” he said. “It is central to the American story.”

The Smithsonian’s 19th addition to its sprawling museum and research complex is the first national museum tasked with documenting the uncomfortable truths of the country’s systematic oppression of black people, while also honouring the integral role of African-American culture.

“A clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable,” Obama said. “It is precisely 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.”

Guests of honour on stage included four generations of a black family called the Bonners, led by 99-year-old great-grandmother Ruth, the daughter of a slave who went on to graduate from medical school.

After Obama declared the museum “open to the world,” it was she — stooped in stature but smiling broadly — who tugged on a rope to ring an antique bell from an historic black church, sealing
the inauguration.

“I feel a sense of pride and a sense of humbleness because of all the sacrifices that so many people made to make this happen,” said audience member Karmello Colman, who trekked halfway across the country for the ceremony from Kansas City, Missouri.

“I feel honoured because it is highlighting the accomplishments of my ancestors, who were probably slaves, and those of so many others.”

In Roanoke, Virginia, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who is seeking to shore up support among black voters, stumbled over the name of the new Washington museum on African American history.

The new museum is a “really beautiful place”, Trump told thousands of supporters on Saturday.

He called it the “Smithsonian national museum of American history, African American art” although the long-awaited institution is called the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Trump, who has been accused of racism toward several minority groups, hailed African Americans’ “incredible contributions” to the United States.

“African Americans have given so much to our nation, and sacrificed so much for this nation,” he said.

While noting that some African Americans have been very successful, Trump acknowledged that “too many African Americans have been left behind and trapped in poverty”. — AFP

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