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President Obama Officially Dedicates the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

President Obama Officially Dedicates the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

It took 100 years to come to life, but the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., is finally, officially, open as of 1pm Saturday after President Obama dedicated the museum during a ceremony.

"African American history is not somehow separate than the American story. It is not the underside of the American story. It is central to the American story," Obama said in a speech to 7,000 official guests — and thousands more listening from the National Mall.

Others who spoke included Oprah (whose foundation contributed to the construction), former president George W. Bush (who signed the museum's establishment into law in 2003), and Georgia Congressman John Lewis (who was the project's most consistent champion).

First proposed in 1915 by black veterans of the Civil War, the 400,000-square-foot museum holds artifacts — around 40,000 of them — that speak to and uphold the experiences of African-Americans throughout American history, from president to porter, as Obama said.

Though the layout of the museum takes visitors on a path from "darkness into light," according to NPR, the museum's ultimate mission is to present the "unvarnished truth" of the country's past.

People queued for hours to get inside the museum—some spent 90 minutes in line and still had hundreds in front of them.

Among those who were able to visit on the museum's opening day, many posed by the statue of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games Black Power salute and gazed at the juxtaposition of President Thomas Jefferson's writing implements and the shackles he used on slaves.

Other artifacts included Murray's pomade, Adidas sneakers, and a Kangol hat, according to visitor Marion Johnson, who said that the museum offered her a feeling of place:

“I think it was a validation in American culture that I didn’t know I was seeking," Ali said. "My people have a place here — here being this museum, this country, this city," she added.

The museum opens as a point of context in the middle of a deep national discussion about race, justice and equal protection under the law, a "place to understand how protest and love of country don't merely coexist but inform each other," said Obama (his full speech is here).

"How men can proudly win the Gold for their country but still insist on raising a black-gloved fist. How we can wear an 'I can't breathe' t-shirt but still grieve for fallen police officers. Here's the American where the razor-sharp uniform of the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, belongs alongside the cape of the godfather of soul."

As Obama said, the African-American story is one that "perhaps needs to be told now more than ever."

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Photo Credit: Getty Images