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Remarks by Former First Lady Laura Bush and President George W. Bush at the Dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Mall, Washington, D.C., 11:10 A.M.
I’m thrilled to be here today, this is such a really terrific day. On December 16, 2003, President George W. Bush authorized the legislation for the establishment of a new Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Applause.)
When I toured the museum with Dr. Lonnie Bunch last week, we reminisced about those beginning days of the museum. The legislation had been authorized; the site had been secured; Lonnie had been hired as the museum’s director. I’ll never forget Lonnie’s poignant words when we considered the historic and cultural significance of what was to become. Lonnie paused for dramatic effect – or so I thought – and then said, “What do we do now?!” (Laughter.)
Lonnie, look what you’ve done! (Applause.) You and your team have truly achieved a monumental achievement. Congratulations.
Our next speaker signed the legislation that assured the museum’s place on the National Mall, my husband, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
Thank you all. Thank you, darling. (Laughter.) Laura has been very much engaged in this museum for a long time. She sits on the board and we’re honored to be here. My first reaction is, I hope all our fellow citizens come look at this place. It is fabulous. (Applause.)
Mr. President and First Lady, Vice President, Chief Justice, David, the Board: Thank you very much.
I do want to give a shout out to Lonnie. It’s really important to understand this project would not and could not have happened without his drive, his energy, and his optimism. (Applause.)
As Laura mentioned, fifteen years ago, Members of Congress from both parties, including Congressman John Lewis and Sam Brownback, then-Senator from Kansas, informed me they were about to introduce legislation creating a new museum to share the stories and celebrate the achievements of African Americans. You know, it would be fair to say that the Congress and I didn’t always see eye to eye (laughter) – if you know what I mean, Mr. President (laughter) – but this was one issue where we strongly agreed. I was honored to sign the bill authorizing the construction of this national treasure. And I am pleased it now stands where it has always belonged: on the National Mall. (Applause.)
This museum is an important addition to our country for many reasons. Here are three. First, it shows our commitment to truth. A great Nation does not hide its history; it faces its flaws and corrects them. (Applause.) 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. From the beginning, some spoke the truth – John Adams called slavery “an evil of colossal magnitude.” Their voices were not heeded, and often not heard, but they were always known to a Power greater than any on Earth, one who loves His children and meant them to be free.
Second, this museum shows America’s capacity to change. For centuries, slavery and segregation seemed permanent parts of our national life. But not to Nat Turner, or Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King, Jr. (Applause). All answered cruelty with courage and hope. In a society governed by the people, no wrong lasts forever. After struggle and sacrifice, the American people — acting through the most democratic of means — amended the Constitution that originally treated slaves as three-fifths of a person to guarantee equal protection of the laws. After decades of struggle, Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were finally enacted. Even today, the journey toward justice is still not complete, but this museum will inspire us to go farther and get there faster.
And finally, the museum showcases the talent of some of our finest Americans. The galleries celebrate not only African-American equality, but African-American greatness. (Applause.) I can’t help but note that a huge influence in my teenage years is honored here, the great Chuck Barry. (Laughter.) Or my baseball idol growing up in far West Texas, the great Willie Mays.
And of course, something I never really mastered – the ability to give a good speech – but Thurgood Marshall sure could.
As some of you may know I’m a fledging painter, a struggling artist. (Laughter.) I have a new appreciation for the artists whose brilliant works are displayed here: people like Robert Duncanson, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and Charles Henry Alston. Our country is better and more vibrant because of their contributions and the contributions of millions of African Americans. No telling of American history is neither complete nor accurate without acknowledging them.
The lesson of this museum is that all Americans share a past — and a future. By staying true to our principles, righting injustice, and encouraging the empowerment of all, we will be an even greater Nation for generations to come. I congratulate all those who played a role in creating this wonderful museum. May God bless us all.
President Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, to Barbara and George H.W. Bush – later the 41st President of the United States. In 1948, the family moved to Texas, where George W. Bush grew up in Midland and Houston. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1968 and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1975. He served as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1974. He settled in Midland, where he started an energy business and married Laura Welch on November 5, 1977. After working on his father’s successful 1988 Presidential campaign, George W. Bush joined a group of partners that purchased the Texas Rangers baseball franchise in 1989.
On November 8, 1994, George W. Bush was elected the 46th Governor of Texas. In 1998, he became the first governor in Texas history to be elected to consecutive four-year terms.
After the Presidency, George and Laura Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. The Center is home to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library, which houses George W. Bush’s presidential papers. The Center is also home to the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy organization that focuses on economic growth, education reform, global health, and human freedom. The Institute supports the rights of women with its Women’s Initiative and honors those who have served in the United States armed forces through its Military Service Initiative.
President Bush is the author of Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors, a collection of paintings and stories honoring the sacrifice and courage of America's veterans. He is also the author of two bestselling books, Decision Points and 41.
He and Laura are the parents of twin daughters: Barbara, married to Craig Coyne, and Jenna, married to Henry Hager. The Bushes are also the proud grandparents of Margaret Laura “Mila” and Poppy Louise Hager. The Bush family also includes two cats, Bob and Bernadette, as well as Freddy the dog.
Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United States, is an advocate for literacy, education, and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, President and Mrs. Bush founded the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. The Center is home to the Bush Presidential Museum and Library and the George W. Bush Institute, a public policy center established to advance human freedom, economic growth, education reform, and global health.
Today Mrs. Bush pursues her work on global healthcare innovations, and empowering women in emerging democracies through the George W. Bush Institute. She serves as the Chair for the Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative, guiding the Institute’s programs to advance economic opportunity, good health and human freedom for women and girls. Women’s Initiative programs are training women leaders in Egypt, raising awareness of Afghan women’s progress and plight, and convening African first ladies, government officials and public-private partnerships to invest in women’s health to strengthen Africa.
Laura Bush is a leading voice for spreading freedom and promoting human rights across the globe. For more than a decade, she has led efforts through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council to protect the hard-earned rights of women in that country. As First Lady, she made three trips to Afghanistan and in 2001 she delivered the President’s weekly radio address – a first for a First Lady – to direct international attention to the Taliban’s oppression of women.
Long a supporter of the people of Burma, in 2006 Laura Bush hosted a roundtable discussion on Burma at the United Nations headquarters in New York. After Cyclone Nargis devastated the country in May 2008, she held an unprecedented press conference in the White House Press Briefing Room and urged the ruling junta to accept international aid. She then traveled to the Thai-Burma border, where she met with Burmese refugees. In 2012, Mrs. Bush helped to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The legislation for the medal, signed by President Bush, had been awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2008 when she was under house arrest.
As First Lady, Mrs. Bush advocated the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people and to foster healthy families and communities. She highlighted the importance of preparing children to become lifelong learners, convening in 2001 a White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Since 2003, she has served as the Honorary Ambassador for the United Nations Literacy Decade. Laura Bush visited schools and met with students in nations from Afghanistan to Zambia, with a particular focus on the education of girls and women. Mrs. Bush worked with the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2001. The National Book Festival continues to this day and annually attracts more than 120,000 Americans. The Texas Book Festival in Austin was founded in 1996 by Mrs. Bush while she was First Lady of Texas. At the Bush Institute in Dallas, President and Mrs. Bush’s Education Reform initiative works to improve student achievement through effective school leadership, middle school transformation, and the use of accountability.
Because heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women, in 2003 Laura Bush partnered with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to launch The Heart Truth campaign and the Red Dress project. The Heart Truth campaign aims to raise awareness among women about their risk for heart disease. In 2006, she helped launch the first international partnerships for breast cancer awareness and research. As First Lady, she visited countries in Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America to support programs that help women detect breast cancer early so they can seek treatment when it has the best chance of success. Mrs. Bush has visited more than a dozen countries to support the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative. Today through the Bush Institute, Laura and George Bush continue their work to promote women’s health through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a health initiative that adds the testing and treatment of cervical and breast cancer to PEPFAR in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mrs. Bush is the author of the bestselling memoir, Spoken From the Heart, and bestselling children’s book, Our Great Big Backyard. She serves on many boards, including the National Advisory Board for the Salvation Army, the Council for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Board of Trustees for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Laura Bush was born in Midland, Texas, to Harold and Jenna Welch. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Southern Methodist University and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Texas. She taught in public schools in Dallas, Houston and Austin and worked as a public school librarian. She served as First Lady of Texas from 1995 to 2000.
President and Mrs. Bush are the parents of twin daughters: Barbara, married to Craig Coyne, and Jenna, married to Henry Hager. The Bushes are also the proud grandparents of Margaret Laura “Mila” and Poppy Louise Hager. The Bush family also includes two cats, Bob and Bernadette, as well as Freddy the dog.Full Bio