Along with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, 99-year-old Ruth Odom Bonner rang the bell to officially open the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the nation’s first Black history museum, as reported by the Huffington Post.
“Today, we have with us a family that reflects the arc of our progress: the Bonner family ― four generations in all, starting with gorgeous 7-year-old Christine and going up to gorgeous 99-year-old Ruth,” President Barack Obama said. “Ruth’s father, Elijah Odom, was born into servitude in Mississippi. He was born a slave. As a young boy, he ran, though, to his freedom. He lived through Reconstruction and he lived through Jim Crow. But he went on to farm, and graduate from medical school, and gave life to the beautiful family that we see today ― with a spirit reflected in beautiful Christine, free and equal in the laws of her country and in the eyes of God.”
Several thousand people from across the country gathered on the National Mall to watch the museum’s opening ceremonies on September 24.
“It’s like walking across the desert and finally getting to a fountain of water to quench your thirst,” said Verna Eggleston, who toured the museum, as reported by the Toledo Blade. “It’s absolutely breathtaking for me.”
According to museum officials, almost 3,000 items throughout 85,000 square feet of display space are available for view, including a Tuskegee Airmen training plane and the casket of Emmett Till.
“It’s been 100 years in the making,” explained said U.S. Circuit Judge Robert L. Wilkins. “So many people have dreamed about this, fought for this and wanted this to happen. It’s going to be a testament to their work and a testament to so many of our ancestors that this museum will open on the Mall.”
The bell the Obamas rang with the Bonner family was from the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, one of the first Black-run Baptist churches. The Freedom Bell, which dates back to 1886, will return to the church for its 240th anniversary later this year.