WASHINGTON-The first black president of the US has formally opened the first US national museum about the African-American experience, in Washington DC.

Barack Obama said the $540m (£415m) Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture would “tell a story of America that hasn’t always taken a front seat”.

The building is designed by British architect David Adjaye.

Mr Obama’s predecessor George W Bush was also at the opening.

It was then-president Mr Bush who signed the law in 2003 that allowed construction of the museum to move forward. Both Mr Bush and his wife Laura addressed the crowd. They were followed by Stevie Wonder, who performed the song Where Is Our Love.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Obama said the new museum would educate Americans about the history of the racial tensions seen during protests over police killings of black men.

“As a people, we’ve rightfully passed on the tales of the giants who built this country,” Mr Obama said during his weekly address to the American people.

“But too often, wilful or not, we’ve chosen to gloss over or ignore entirely the experience of millions upon millions of others.” He added: “And so it is entirely fitting that we tell this story on our National Mall, the same place we tell the stories of [President George] Washington and [President Thomas] Jefferson and our independence.”

The latest race protests have engulfed two US cities, leading the governor of the state of North Carolina to declare a state of emergency in the city of Charlotte.

The bronze-coloured museum, designed by British architect David Adjaye, is located on Washington’s National Mall - not far from the White House.

It contains 36,000 items, ranging from trade goods used to buy slaves in Africa to a segregated railway car from the 1920s and a red Cadillac convertible belonging to rock’n’roll pioneer Chuck Berry.

While some of the artefacts depict the slavery era, others show how black culture has come to define American culture, says the BBC’s Nick Bryant in Washington.

Black veterans of the US Civil War first proposed an African-American museum in 1915.

 

However, it was not until 2003 that Congress approved its creation. Construction of the 37,200 sq m building took almost four years.

The museum’s opening is being celebrated with three days of festivities, including concerts by artists such as rap group Public Enemy and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.