Ruth Bonner, Who Helped Open Smithsonian African-American Museum, Dies At 100 Ruth Bonner died last week. She was a witness to some large changes in U.S. history, and she was called upon to ring the opening bell at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
NPR logo

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

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/547646636/547646637" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Ruth Bonner, Who Helped Open Smithsonian African-American Museum, Dies At 100

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

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

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/547646636/547646637" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Ruth Bonner died last week. She was a witness to some large changes in U.S. history, and she was called upon to ring the opening bell at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.