By Amie Parnes - 02/22/12 05:14 PM EST
President Obama on Wednesday said that a new African-American museum will “be a monument for all time” and will help “keep the memories alive,” serving as a reminder to future generations of the inspirational, central and sometimes painful role black Americans have played in U.S. history.
In brief remarks at the construction site of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture at the National Mall, Obama said the groundbreaking “has been a long time coming.”
Obama said the museum — built along the same spot where hundreds of thousands marched for freedom — will tell the story of the “sometimes difficult, often inspirational but always central role that African-Americans have played in the life of our country"
“This museum will celebrate that history,” Obama said on a stage before first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaOvernight Tech: Facebook's Sandberg comes to Washington | Senate faces new surveillance fight | Warren enters privacy debate Michelle Obama signs up for Snapchat Michelle Obama: 'It's time for us to come together' MORE and former first lady Laura Bush. “Because just as the memories of our earliest days have been confined to dusty letters and faded pictures, the time will come when few people remember drinking from a Colored water fountain or boarding a segregated bus. Or hearing in person Dr. King’s voice boom down from the Lincoln Memorial"
Speaking to a crowd that included former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Obama said the museum “won’t just be an achievement for our time, it will be a monument for all time.”
“It will do more than simply keep those memories alive,” Obama said. “Just like the Air and Space Museum challenges us to set our sights higher, or the National History Museum encourages us to look closer or the Holocaust Museum calls us to fight persecution wherever we find it, this museum should inspire us as well. It should stand as proof that the most important things in life rarely come quickly or easily.”
Before Obama spoke, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) read from the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem” and called the museum’s groundbreaking “a validation of our dreams."
“This is an idea whose time has come,” Lewis said.
Obama said the museum’s groundbreaking made him think about his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and what he wanted them to experience.
“I want them to see how ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things,” Obama said. “How men and women just like them had the courage, determination to right a wrong.”
The president said that the museum would teach his daughters to understand “that injustice and evil exists in the world.”
But he also said the museum wouldn’t just be “a record of tragedy, but a celebration of life.”