WASHINGTON ― There were plenty of powerful moments during Saturday’s dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
But one stood out: The first black president and the first black first lady helping Ruth Bonner, the 99-year-old daughter of a man born a slave in Mississippi, ring a bell to open the first national museum of black history.
“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 a gorgeous 99-year-old Ruth,” President Barack Obama said in a speech before ringing the bell. “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.”
The bell the Obamas rang with Bonner and several members of her family came from the First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. That church was started by free and enslaved black Americans who met in secret. The bell dates back to the 1880s, but was recently restored and rang again this year for the first time since segregation.