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Ruth Bonner, Who Helped Open Smithsonian African-American Museum, Dies At 100


The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., was over a hundred years in the making. And when it finally opened last year, the honor of marking the occasion went to Ruth Bonner. She died last week at the age of 100. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: It was a Saturday when the museum finally opened. Onstage, politicians spoke. Famous people shared inspiring quotes. Patti LaBelle performed.


PATTI LEBELLE: (Singing) I was born by the river.

LIMBONG: At the very end of the ceremony, President Obama introduced the Bonners.


BARRACK OBAMA: We have with us a family that reflects the arc of our progress.

LIMBONG: Up came Ruth Bonner. She was 99 years old. She and her great-granddaughter stood on stage, flanked by the president and first lady and other family members. And then she rang a bell...


LIMBONG: ...One that came from a black Baptist church founded in 1776 in spite of laws that said black people couldn't congregate or preach. And it was especially symbolic because Ruth Bonner's father, Elijah, was born into slavery and then escaped. Here's how President Obama described his life.


OBAMA: He lived through reconstruction, and he lived through Jim Crow. But he went on to farm and graduate from medical school.

LIMBONG: After that, he served his community, both black and white patients. He died while Ruth was young, but she still had some stories about him. Here's Ruth's son, Michael Bonner.

MICHAEL BONNER: She would sometimes bust into his examination rooms when she shouldn't have. And he would chew her out. She was not a shrinking violet in any way, form or fashion.

LIMBONG: The day she rang the bell, Ruth Bonner met all sorts of people - members of Congress, President George W. Bush, Robert De Niro, Angela Bassett. When Michael Bonner took her back to her assisted living facility, she received a standing ovation. And she enjoyed the attention.

BONNER: When I saw her back in the assisted living facility, you know, she sent me on my way (laughter). She was excited, and everyone there was excited. And that persisted for quite a while.

LIMBONG: In a statement, Lonnie Bunch, the founder and director of the museum, said Ruth Bonner will be remembered for representing generations of African-Americans with honor and dignity. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMPHA SONG, "TOO MUCH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.