Watch Obamas ring First Baptist’s ‘Freedom Bell’ at NMAAHC dedication

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President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle Obama ring the First Baptist Freedom Bell with 99-year-old Ruth Bonner and her family. Ruth’s father was born into slavery, but escaped to freedom and eventually graduated from medical school. (NMAAHC Live Stream)
President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle Obama ring the First Baptist Freedom Bell with 99-year-old Ruth Bonner and her family. Ruth’s father was born into slavery, but escaped to freedom and eventually graduated from medical school. (NMAAHC Live Stream)

On Saturday, the historic First Baptist bell rang in the nation’s capital to mark the dedication of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.

“Today, a dream too long deferred is a dream no longer,” the museum’s founding director, Lonnie Bunch, said during the opening ceremony.

The historic significance of the newest and 19th Smithsonian museum was celebrated by national figures such as President Barack Obama and the first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Congressman John Lewis, who drafted the original legislation to create the museum.

“The items displayed within the walls of this museum, they reveal truths, profound truths, poignant truths and the universal truth that the African American story is indivisible from the American story,” said Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton.  

The majority of the 37,000 items in the museum’s collection are artifacts from the personal journeys of African Americans, Skorton said. They loaned the museum their own possessions to preserve and resurrect a history that has long been stored in attics and kept in drawers, he said.

“A great nation does not hide its history,” former President George W. Bush said during opening remarks. “It faces its flaws and corrects them. This museum tells the truth — that a country founded on the promise of liberty held millions in chains, that the price of our union was America’s original sin.”

The bell of the First Baptist Church symbolizes that legacy. The church was founded in secrecy by a group enslaved men and women in 1776, the same year the colonies declared their independence from England.

“Let us now open this museum to the world,” President Barack Obama said in his address. “Join us in ringing a bell from the First Baptist Church in Virginia, one of the oldest black churches in America, founded under a grove of trees in 1776. And the sound of this bell will be echoed by others, in houses of worship and town squares all across this country, an echo of the ringing of bells that signaled emancipation more than a century and a half ago, the sound and the anthem of American freedom.”

Click here to watch the full dedication ceremony.

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