WASHINGTON — At a long-awaited ground-breaking ceremony, President Barack Obama said Wednesday the new national black history museum will be a “celebration of life.”  Joining with African-American icons and other dignitaries, including former first lady Laura Bush, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and actress Phylicia Rashad, the president praised the planned museum as an achievement decades in the making.

“This day has been a long-time coming,” Obama said of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, noting that first calls for such an institution came from black Civil War veterans.

The museum’s seven floors will feature exhibits on slavery, civil rights and black culture and feature artifacts such as Nat Turner’s bible, a plane flown by the first black military pilots the Tuskegee Airmen, and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.

“It will do more than simply keep those memories alive,” the president said. “This museum should inspire us as well, should stand as proof that the most important things in life rarely come quickly or easily.”

The museum is being built between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History on the National Mall. Obama and former first lady Laura Bush said the prime location is fitting.

“Here on this very mall is where Martin Luther King Jr. stood and shared his dream of a nation,” Bush said.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who as a senator co-sponsored the bill authorizing the museum, said it is not meant as a place for an airing of grievances but rather for a celebration of perseverance.

“This museum is for the American grandchildren to see the triumph of great Americans,” he said.

President George W. Bush signed  the legislation creating the museum in 2003. The museum is scheduled to open in 2015. Like other Smithsonian museums, it will be free to the public.

C-SPAN covered the entire event live.