National Museum of African American History and Culture groundbreaking Wednesday

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WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama heralded a new national black history museum as "not just a record of tragedy, but a celebration of life" as he marked Wednesday's groundbreaking of the long-sought-after museum on the National Mall.

(Photo: Associated Press)

During his brief remarks, Obama said the museum - the 19th in the Smithsonian Institution - would help future generations remember the sometimes difficult, often inspirational role, that African Americans have played in the nation's history.

And he said it was fitting that a museum telling the history of black life, art and culture would be located on the National Mall in the capital city.

"It was on this ground long ago that lives were once traded, where hundreds of thousands once marched for jobs and for freedom," Obama said. "It was here that the pillars of democracy were built often by black hands."

The president was joined by wife Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush to celebrate the start of construction on the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

It will be built between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History as a seven-level structure with much of its exhibit space below ground.

A bronze-coated "corona," a crown that rises as an inverse pyramid, will be its most distinctive feature.

Organizers said the design is inspired by African-American metalwork from New Orleans and Charleston, S.C., and also evokes African roots.

Some exhibits will eventually include a Jim Crow-era segregated railroad car, galleries devoted to military and sports history and Louis Armstrong's trumpet, among thousands of items.

There will also be a court for quiet reflection, Museum Director Lonnie Bunch said.

"We will have stories that will make you smile and stories that will make you cry," he told The Associated Press.

"In a positive sense, this will be an emotional roller coaster, so you want to give people chances to reflect and to think about what this means to them."

In many ways, the museum already exists.

It has staff collecting artifacts and working to raise $250 million to fund the construction.

Congress pledged to provide half the $500 million construction cost. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

The future museum already has a gallery at the Smithsonian's American history museum with rotating exhibits to showcase its new collection and test different themes and approaches with visitors.

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