News Releases

President Barack Obama To Participate in Dedication of Smithsonian’s New Museum

National Museum of African American History and Culture Ceremony Is Saturday, Sept. 24

September 24, 2016

President Barack Obama will speak at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Saturday morning, Sept. 24. First Lady Michelle Obama will also attend. Participants in the program include former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton, Rep. John Lewis and Lonnie G. Bunch III, the museum’s founding director. Attending the ceremony will be Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Dr. Jill Biden and former President Bill Clinton.

The occasion will be marked by musical performances (Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Denyce Graves) and actors (Robert De Niro, Angela Bassett) reading the words of black poets and historians. There will be 7,000 seated guests and tens of thousands of people gathered around the Washington Monument grounds watching the ceremony on Jumbotrons around the site. The hour-long ceremony is scheduled to begin at about 10 a.m.

President Obama will be the final speaker. He and members of the Bonners, a four-generation African American family, will ring the Freedom Bell, a 500-pound, cast-steel bell from the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, Va. The church began in 1776 and is believed to be the first black Baptist church. Bells will then ring throughout the city.

The public is invited to watch the ceremony from the grounds of the Washington Monument and on Jumbotrons around the site. Visitors will enter the site through security screening at access points at 17th Street N.W. and Constitution Avenue N.W. or at 17th Street S.W. and Independence Avenue S.W. In addition, the ceremony will be live streamed at and covered by C-SPAN.

The Jumbotrons will show iconic images of black history and culture as the countdown to the program begins. The program is:

  • Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C.
  • Angelique Kidjo performs “Redemption Song”
  • Honor Guard
  • National Anthem performed by the Voices of Tomorrow Choir
  • Rev. Calvin O. Butts III (words of inspiration)
  • Dr. David Skorton, Secretary of the Smithsonian
  • Shirley Ann Jackson, vice chair, Smithsonian Board of Regents
  • Readings (Journey No. 1) by Robert De Niro and Angela Bassett
  • Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), civil rights leader and co-sponsor of the legislation establishing the museum
  • Mrs. Laura Bush
  • President George W. Bush
  • Special performance by Stevie Wonder
  • John G. Roberts Jr., Chief Justice of the United States and Chancellor of the Smithsonian
  • Ken Chenault and Linda Johnson Rice, Museum Council members
  • Readings (Journey No. 2) by two guests to be announced
  • Patti LaBelle performs “A Change Is Gonna Come”
  • Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director, National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • President Barack Obama
  • Fanfare to announce museum’s official opening; the President and the Bonner family will ring the Freedom Bell; bells will then ring throughout the city
  • Denyce Graves and the Voices of Tomorrow Choir perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

Because of the size and nature of the event and its location on the National Mall, large crowds are expected. Prohibited items include, but are not limited to:

  • Aerosol
  • Alcohol
  • Ammunition
  • Animals, other than service/guide dogs
  • Balloons
  • Bicycles and pedicabs
  • Coolers
  • Drones/unmanned aerial systems
  • Explosives/fireworks
  • Firearms
  • Glass, thermal or metal containers
  • Laser pointers
  • Mace/pepper spray
  • Support for signs and placards
  • Structures: tents, portable chairs or tables
  • Toy guns
  • Weapons of any kind
  • Any other items determined to be potential safety hazards


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Media only  
Linda St.Thomas  

Fleur Paysour 

Abby Benson 

Becky Haberacker 

Museum building on the mall