National Museum of African American History and Culture

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 22, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BECERRA. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture this Saturday, September 24, 2016.

As the nineteenth museum to join the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African American History and Culture joins the world's largest museum, education, and research complex. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.

When the Smithsonian was founded in 1846, the United States was a far less perfect union than the one we live in today, and the idea of a museum that would tell the story of African Americans could hardly have been imagined. Yet there can be no denying that the story of America and its vitality, resilience, and optimism are rooted and reflected in the African American experience.

In the words of Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, ``there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history.''

As Members of Congress, we have the privilege of representing the entirety of the American people and working in the ``People's House'' and under the glorious dome of our U.S. Capitol and its crowning feature, the Statue of Freedom. In the pages of history, you will find extensive information about the architect of the Capitol, the artist who designed the Statue of Freedom, and the foundry owner who was commissioned for the casting of the statue. What is less known is the story of Philip Reid, the enslaved laborer of the foundry owner who was the only known slave working on Freedom and instrumental to its successful casting in bronze.

Philip Reid worked on the casting of Freedom from 1860 through 1862, despite the beginning of the Civil War and its toll on construction of the Capitol. When the statue was finally completed and placed atop the Capitol Dome in 1863, Reid had become a free man thanks to the Compensated Emancipation Act signed by President Lincoln.

The story of Philip Reid is the story of America, and only one of the many histories and cultural contributions that will be shared with the American public at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Like the building of the U.S. Capitol, the creation of this museum has taken almost a century, but its time has finally come.

Today, we celebrate its opening and its tribute to generations of Americans past, present and future and the defining way in which our country has been shaped by our African American brothers and sisters.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I recall the words of the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes who wrote that ``America is a dream . . . not my dream alone, but our dream. Not my world alone, but your world and my world.'' Let us all share in this great dream made real together.