The new National Museum of African American History and Culture will help future generations remember the sometimes difficult, often inspirational role, that African Americans have played in the nation's history, President Barack Obama said.
"When our children look at Harriet Tubman's shawl, at the flights of the Tuskeegee Airmen, I don't want them to be seen as figures larger than life," he said on Wednesday morning. "I want them to see how ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things."
Obama spoke at the groundbreaking for the museum, which will tell the history of black life, art and culture. The $500 million museum will be located on the National Mall in the capital city and is scheduled to open in 2015, likely the last museum to be built on the National Mall.
Obama said the museum "has been a long time coming." He said it is fitting that it will be built on the National Mall, where slaves were once traded and hundreds of thousands of people marched for jobs and freedom.
Former first lady Laura Bush spoke about her husband's administration helping lay the groundwork in 2006.
The groundbreaking celebration included a stirring national anthem and cultural songs that span generations.
The museum will be built between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History as a seven-level structure with much of its exhibit space below ground. A bronze-coated "corona," a crown that rises as an inverse pyramid, will be its most distinctive feature. Organizers said the design is inspired by African-American metalwork from New Orleans and Charleston, S.C., and also evokes African roots.
Some exhibits will eventually include a Jim Crow-era segregated railroad car, galleries devoted to military and sports history and Louis Armstrong's trumpet, among thousands of items. There will also be a court for quiet reflection, Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said.