Hollywood actors, singers and local talent fuel the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
One-hundred years in the making, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened with magnificent fanfare on Saturday, September 24, 2016 on the National Mall. The museum, home to over 3,000 artifacts, is by far, currently the premier attraction in the Nation’s Capital. Such is the demand to see the exhibits, tickets are unavailable until January.
Many political and entertainment luminaries took the stage, including President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Stevie Wonder, and Patti LaBelle. Local talent included performers from Howard University and a choir from Suitland High School, which performed “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith performed a dueling, poetry-slam like historic quote competition. Winfrey quoted late poet Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be faced again.”
“Did you just challenge me to a poetry battle?” Smith playfully retorted. Smith then quoted poet Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore, and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over, like a syrupy sweet?”
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m going to,” quipped legendary, and quite blind, singer Stevie Wonder about the museum. “History has shown us that we can rise…we can come together,” Wonder said of the American people. Wonder then emotionally performed his new song, reportedly from his upcoming album Through The Eyes Of Wonder, “Where is Our Song of Love (A Song of Love for All Humanity).”
Patti LaBelle powerfully sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna’ Come”, and Hollywood stars Robert De Niro and Angela Bassett, took turns quoting famous civil rights leaders from years past. “One had better die fighting against injustice than die like a dog,” De Niro said, quoting 19th Century civil rights icon Frederick Douglass. Bassett quoted Rosa Parks : “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis (D-Ga.), who re-submitted legislation to authorize the museum for several years, until former President Bush signed off on it, said “As long as there is a United States of America, there will be a National Museum of African American History and Culture…This place is more than a building, it is a dream come true.”
The museum’s Founding Director, Lonnie G. Bunch III, said “Today, a dream too long deferred is a dream no longer! “ Some of the exhibits at the museum “can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators in places like Ferguson and Charlotte “, said President Obama as part of his keynote speech. African American history, Obama said, “is central to the American story.” Then, Ruth Odom Bonner, 99-years-young, daughter of a slave-turned-doctor, rang the Freedom Bell, which was from the Williamsburg Baptist Church, to officially open the museum.
The opening was emotionally edifying for many in attendance, including this reporter, who can recall attending planning meetings for the museum while an editorial assistant working in the Smithsonian Castle in the 1990s. The museum recently announced that same-day tickets are available daily at 9:15 AM, at 14th and Constitution, NW, in Washington, DC. By all accounts, the museum is a see-before-you-die-must-go if you are a lover of history. Be sure to take it in!
WATCH THE ENTIRE OPENING CEREMONIES:
The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened September 24, 2016 at 200 15th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, they are available same day at 14th and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC or find them free online starting January 2017.