Presidents, Civil Rights Leaders Herald Opening of National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.

"I've been waiting to see this day for 15 years—and in some ways, my whole life" --Rep. John Lewis
“I’ve been waiting to see this day for 15 years—and in some ways, my whole life” –Rep. John Lewis

More than 100 years after it was first proposed and 13 years after it was authorized by Congress, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens today in Washington.

The long-awaited moment is being heralded by a weekend of celebrations across the city, in what the museum director Lonnie Bunch has called a “mini inauguration.” The most anticipated event is the grand opening ceremony on the National Mall, which is being broadcast on C-SPAN and streamed online. President Obama, the country’s first African American chief executive, is expected to reflect on the nation’s racial divides, both past and present in his address.

Since the day Obama presided over the museum’s groundbreaking in 2012, an impressive 400,000 square foot structure has been built in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Serving as home to more than 36,000 artifacts, the museum exists to both memorialize and educate, and most importantly to museum director Bunch, cement the African American story’s place in the American story.

“I wanted people to realize that even if you think this isn’t your story, it is,” Bunch recently told The Post.

The museum’s bronze-hued exterior and unusual shape stand starkly in contrast with the buildings surrounding it, and purposefully so. Inside, visitors walk the path from slavery to civil rights to the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything in between. The familiar and the untold stories of history are shared through meaningful objects: from the shawl of Harriet Tubman to a candy-red Cadillac driven by Chuck Berry, to the uneven-bar grips used by Gabby Douglas in the 2012 Olympics.

For the time being, getting inside the museum will take some advance planning. Although, as with all Smithsonian museums, entry is free, admission currently requires a timed ticket, available atnmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes. All the tickets for opening weekend were snapped up the moment they were made available in August. Tickets for September, October, November and every weekend in December are sold out. But starting Monday, individuals can obtain up to four same-day passes from the visitor services staff starting at 9:15 a.m.

Even without a ticket, there’s still good reason to head to the Mall this weekend, if you don’t mind crowds and security checkpoints. On the Washington Monument grounds between 15th and 17th streets NW, the museum is hosting a free, three-day festival celebrating African American culture. Food stands will offer Southern barbecue, Kenyan curries, Caribbean jerk and Gulf Coast po’ boys. Music, poetry, dancing and storytelling will entertain visitors throughout the day, leading to a Saturday night concert featuring Living Colour, Public Enemy and the Roots. The festival will continue on Sunday. (Full schedule here.)

People were already streaming onto the grounds of the Washington Monument before sunrise Saturday, hoping to get a view of the festivities — or at least see them on the Jumbotrons nearby.

“We are very excited to see our family history,” said Gladys Atkins, from Helmetta, N.J.“We of course descended from slaves… I have photographs of my slave ancestors.”

She and her husband have tickets to enter the museum for 5:30 p.m. In fact, they have tickets for four separate days.

“We are serious,” she said.

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