America's first national African-American museum opened Saturday as the police killings of black men continue to rock the nation. That duality wasn't lost on America's first African-American president.
President Obama and President George W. Bush, who signed into law the bill creating the museum on the National Mall, spoke Saturday at the ceremony celebrating its opening. Mr. Obama said the museum recounts in detail the grim history of slavery and government-backed Jim Crow segregation while chronicling the progress make in civil and voting rights and economic and educational equality.
That parallel between progress and regression continues today, said the president, defined on one hand by his election to two terms as president and personified on the other by the killing of black men by law authorities.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white police officer has been indicted on a charge of first-degree manslaughter for shooting an unarmed black man to death. The officer cited the all-purpose "feared for my life" excuse but Terence Crutcher was unarmed and there was no reason to believe that he was. In Charlotte, North Carolina police assert that Keith Scott was in possession of a handgun when he was shot to death but there is no concrete evidence that he was brandishing a weapon when he was gunned down. Possession of handgun is not against the law in North Carolina, which the National Rifle Association should be reminding Americans but has chosen not to.
The normally apolitical world of sports has been roiled this month by silent protests offered by African-American athletes, beginning with San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, during the playing of the national anthem. Their actions protesting the killings of unarmed black men and injustice in America have been criticized as unpatriotic and anti-military, but they are neither. The athletes are exercising their right of free speech and their right to protest, which are sacrosanct, or should be, in America.
The protesters are reminding Americans that the nation's guarantee of liberty and justice for all is not being met when it comes to minorities. That is a painful truth. The African-American museum will further remind visitors that this unfairness is ingrained in the nation's history. It will also point out that we have been, and are, capable of doing better.