WASHINGTON — The first national museum devoted exclusively to the history and culture of African-Americans is now open.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama opened the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall by ringing a bell from a historic African-American church.

The museum is the 19th and the newest of the Smithsonians.

The push for the museum began in 1915 with African-American Civil War veterans looking for a way to commemorate America’s black experience. Former President George W. Bush signed the law authorizing the construction in 2003.

Georgia Congressman John Lewis co-sponsored legislation authorizing the museum. The civil rights icon said the bronze-colored museum “is more than a building, it is a dream come true.”