Full Text February 22, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture site in Washington, D. C.

President Obama helps to dedicate a new museum for African-American history
President Obama at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

President Obama at the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Source: WH, 2-22-12

President Obama delivers remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (February 22, 2012)
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture site in Washington, D. C., Feb. 22, 2012. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the event with the President and other participants included: former First Lady Laura Bush; Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray; Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas; Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, pastor, Abyssian Baptist Church, New York; Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the museum; Richard Kurin, undersecretary for History, Art and Culture at the Smithsonian; Linda Johnson Rice and Richard Parsons, co-chairs of the museum’s advisory council; Dr. G. Wayne Clough, Secretary, The Smithsonian Institution; Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture; and Dr. France Córdova, Chair, Smithsonian Board of Regents. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

This morning, President Obama was on hand for the ground breaking at the site of the future Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

He told those assembled on the National Mall:

Just like the Air and Space Museum challenges us to set our sights higher, or the Natural 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.  It should remind us that although we have yet to reach the mountaintop, we cannot stop climbing.

As he considered what the museum will mean and the history that it will cover, the President talked about what he wants his daughters to experience:

I want my daughters to see the shackles that bound slaves on their voyage across the ocean and the shards of glass that flew from the 16th Street Baptist church, and understand that injustice and evil exist in the world. But I also want them to hear Louis Armstrong’s horn and learn about the Negro League and read the poems of Phyllis Wheatley. And I want them to appreciate this museum not just as a record of tragedy, but as a celebration of life.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture was approved by the Smithsonian Board of Regents in 2006, and the new building is scheduled to open to the public in 2015. The museum will sit on a five acre site, between 14th and 15th Streets N.W. — near the Washington Monument.


Learn more

Watch: First Look at the Museum of African American History and Culture

When the Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National Mall in 2015, it will be “not just a record of tragedy, but a celebration of life,” as President Obama said during the ground breaking ceremony on the site today.

The museum, the 19th in the Smithsonian Institution, will feature objects collected from across the country that tell the stories that make up the African American experience, including personal items that belonged to Harriet Tubman and one of the planes flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Lonny Bunch, the museum’s Founding Director, gives us a first look at some of the treasures that will be on display…. Watch it now

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at the Groundbreaking Ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Mall

11:21 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. Thank you so much.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you very much.  Well, good morning, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

THE PRESIDENT:  I want to thank France for that introduction and for her leadership at the Smithsonian.  I want to thank everybody who helped to make this day happen.  I want to thank Laura Bush; Secretary Salazar; Sam Brownback; my hero, Congressman John Lewis; Wayne Clough, and everybody who’s worked so hard to make this possible.

I am so proud of Lonnie Bunch, who came here from Chicago, I want to point out.  (Laughter and applause.)  I remember having a conversation with him about this job when he was planning to embark on this extraordinary journey.  And we could not be prouder of the work that he has done to help make this day possible.

I promise to do my part by being brief.

As others have mentioned, this day has been a long time coming.  The idea for a museum dedicated to African Americans was first put forward by black veterans of the Civil War.  And years later, the call was picked up by members of the civil rights generation -– by men and women who knew how to fight for what was right and strive for what is just.  This is their day.  This is your day.  It’s an honor to be here to see the fruit of your labor.

It’s also fitting that this museum has found a home on the National Mall.  As has been mentioned, it was on this ground long ago that lives were once traded, where hundreds of thousands once marched for jobs and for freedom.  It was here that the pillars of our democracy were built, often by black hands.  And it is on this spot –- alongside the monuments to those who gave birth to this nation, and those who worked so hard to perfect it –- that generations will remember 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.  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.  That’s why what we build here 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.

Just like the Air and Space Museum challenges us to set our sights higher, or the Natural 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.  It should remind us that although we have yet to reach the mountaintop, we cannot stop climbing.

And that’s why, in moments like this, I think about Malia and Sasha.  I think about my daughters and I think about your children, the millions of visitors who will stand where we stand long after we’re gone.  And I think about what I want them to experience.  I think about what I want them to take away.

When our children look at Harriet Tubman Shaw or Nat Turner’s bible or the plane flown by Tuskegee Airmen, I don’t want them to be seen as figures somehow larger than life.  I want them to see how ordinary Americans could do extraordinary things; how men and women just like them had the courage and determination to right a wrong, to make it right.

I want my daughters to see the shackles that bound slaves on their voyage across the ocean and the shards of glass that flew from the 16th Street Baptist church, and understand that injustice and evil exist in the world.  But I also want them to hear Louis Armstrong’s horn and learn about the Negro League and read the poems of Phyllis Wheatley.  And I want them to appreciate this museum not just as a record of tragedy, but as a celebration of life.

When future generations hear these songs of pain and progress and struggle and sacrifice, I hope they will not think of them as somehow separate from the larger American story.  I want them to see it as central — an important part of our shared story.  A call to see ourselves in one another.  A call to remember that each of us is made in God’s image.  That’s the history we will preserve within these walls.  The history of a people who, in the words of Dr. King, “injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.”

May we remember their stories.  May we live up to their example.  Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:28 A.M. EST

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History Buzz February 15, 2012: Carla L. Peterson: Answers About Black History in 19th-Century New York, Part 1

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

Answers About Black History in 19th-Century New York, Part 1

Taking Questions

Source: NYT, 2-15-12
Carla L. Peterson, the author of "Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City."

The author of “Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City,” answers readers’ questions.

Here are the first set of answers to readers’ questions about black life in 19th-century New York City from Carla L. Peterson. Dr. Peterson is an English professor at the University of Maryland and the author of “Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City.” a book now out in paperback from Yale University Press.

Ask a Question »

Q.

What educational opportunities were available to children of the black members of the 19th-century middle class? Did members of this group work to secure education opportunities for blacks who were not of the same socioeconomic standing?—Sketco, Cleveland, OH

Q.

The article mentions black doctors and pharmacists in New York in the 1800s. Where did they receive their educations? Were there any schools open to them or did they simply work in hospitals and watch what others were doing?—Ed Schwab, Alexandria, VA

A.

In the 1790s the New York Manumission Society established several schools for black children. Its members maintained that education was a necessary component of freedom (despite the fact that several of them were themselves slave owners). These schools were known as African Free Schools, the most famous of which was African Free School No. 2 located on Mulberry Street. This was the school that my great-great-grandfather attended along with several boys who later became prominent leaders of the city’s black community and also worked nationally with men like Frederick Douglass. Until the 1830s, when the city took over their management, these schools offered as good an education as that of other charity schools of the time, probably even better.

Throughout this period, however, New York’s black leaders refused to stay on the sidelines when it came to educating their young. Since poor school attendance was a real problem (how can you send your kids to school in the winter when they have no shoes or overcoats?), black leaders visited homes to see how they could help out. They also established an educational society that set up its own schools, but few of them lasted due to lack of funds.

Getting a higher education was equally difficult. James McCune Smith was denied entrance to U.S. medical schools, so he went to the University of Glasgow medical school (graduating first in his class!). My great-grandfather Philip Augustus White attended the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York, graduating in 1844, even though professional certification in pharmacy was not required at the time. In the 1850s, Peter Williams Ray gained admission to an American medical school, Castleton medical college in Vermont. But when he tried to become a member of the Kings County Medical Society, he was rejected, the argument being that “by science that this was a white man’s Society. … Therefore a colored man could not be admitted.” Yet these black men surmounted the odds and went on to establish successful pharmacy and medical practices….READ MORE

Harvard training college teachers on black history

HISTORY BUZZ: HISTORY NEWS RECAP

History Buzz

Source: AP, WSJ, 7-17-11

Every semester, Cheryl Carpenter tries to think of new ways to introduce Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” to her college students.

An English instructor at Alabama A&M, a historically black college in Normal, Ala., Carpenter said students sometimes are confused about the setting and context of the 1937 novel about an independent black woman’s quest for identity.

But after listening to Temple University history professor Bettye Collier-Thomas talk at a Harvard University program how she dove into dusty attics and forgotten archival material to research her book on black women leaders, Carpenter said she immediately came up with ideas to recreate visual scenes through her lectures.

Carpenter and around two dozen college teachers from around the country are participating this month in a Harvard program aimed at training professors to integrate more black history into their classrooms and research projects.

The “National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College Teachers” at the university’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute brought the group to Cambridge for an intensive three-week program, including archival research, debates on history and lectures by some of the nation’s leading scholars in black studies.

“This is amazing,” Carpenter said. “I’m not a historian. I teach English so I don’t go to the archives much. But the topics we’ve talked about cover so much and now I have so many ideas.”

Among those giving lectures were Pulitzer Prize winners Eric Foner and Steven Hahn.

“Very rare will these participants have access to so many scholars like this at one time,” said University of South Carolina history professor Patricia Sullivan, a co-director of the program. “And they see very quickly that the Civil Rights movement didn’t start in the 1950s. There’s a whole history that is overlooked and it’s not just about black history. It’s American history.”

The program was founded in the mid-1990s by Sullivan, Du Bois institute director Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and University of California-Berkeley history professor Waldo Martin. They wanted a way to introduce college teachers from different disciplines to new scholarship on black civil rights, from Emancipation to the 1960s. Teachers are urged to use the scholarship to develop new curriculum and programs for their classrooms….READ MORE

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