The National Museum of African American History and Culture has finally been inaugurated in Washington after over eight decades in the making amid persisting racial profiling of African Americans across the US by police authorities.
In an official ceremony on Saturday, the $540 million museum opened in the US capital with exhibits on slavery, lynching, and the victims of Jim Crow segregation law against the country’s African American population.
US President Barack Obama pointed out that the museum showcases the uglier parts of America’s historical treatment of its black citizens along with their successes.
“It reminds us that routine discrimination and Jim Crow aren’t ancient history,” Obama said. “It’s just a blink in the eye of history. It was just yesterday. And so we should not be surprised that not all the healing is done. We shouldn’t despair that it isn’t all solved.”
In his nearly half-hour-long address, the first African American president in US history further alluded to the recent spate of police violence and shootings against African Americans -- and the subsequent protest rallies such incidents have sparked.
“This museum provides context for the debates of our times. It illuminates them and gives us some sense to how they evolved,” he said. “Perhaps they can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators like those in Ferguson and Charlotte.”
The remarks came as racial tensions flared once again across the US in the aftermath of police shootings of two more unarmed black men in the past two weeks.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white police officer has been charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, whose car had broken down and blocked a road.
Violent protest rallies broke out in Charlotte, North Carolina, and continued into their fifth day on Saturday after a separate incident in which police shot Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old father of seven.
The shooting deaths were the latest in a string of fatal encounters between police and African Americans that have provoked unrest and threaten to overshadow Obama's legacy on race relations.
“Hopefully, this museum can help us talk to each other,” the US president further proclaimed during his speech.
“Yes, a clear-eyed view of history can make us uncomfortable,” he added, expressing hope that it would “shake us out of our familiar narratives.”
The museum, the nineteenth and the newest of the Smithsonian Institution, came into existence after a years-long fight for funding.
Located on the National Mall just blocks away from the White House, it contains 36,000 items that trace the journey of African Americans from slavery in the 1800s to the fight for civil rights in the 20th century and lauds modern celebrities, such as media magnate Oprah Winfrey and tennis champion Serena Williams.
With a ring of a bell, Obama, his wife, Michelle, and four generations of an African American family inaugurated the museum designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye.
former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, also attended the ceremony.