Leah L. Jones // NMAAHC
Last year, Ruth Odom Bonner helped President Obama make history when she, at the age of 99, rang the restored Freedom Bell to help officially inaugurate the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
As reported, Bonner, who was the daughter of Elijah Odom--a man born into slavery in 1859--passed away peacefully in her sleep on Friday (Sept. 1).
Bonner cherished the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be included in such a historic moment alongside Obama, with her granddaughter later noting how honored her grandmother was to meet the president, let alone be able to personally participate in such an impactful ceremony.
"She was proud to be part of history," Bonner's granddaughter, Rukiya Bonner, shared with reporters. "She was thankful that such an institution existed…She felt honored to meet Obama, because she would never think that in her lifetime she would see such a wonderful president who happened to be Black. The whole family was talking about it all day long. That extended into Christmas…It was a surreal moment…a wonderful way to sum up a lot of her life experiences."
Her son, Mike, also echoed that sentiment, adding that the whole experience was like a dream to his mother, with the occasion supported by four generations of the Bonner family. Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Stevie Wonder, Bill Clinton, Congressman John Lewis and more were also in attendance.
"She was overwhelmed to an extent," Mike Bonner shared with the Smithsonian. "But she really and truly enjoyed and was taken by the opening. And when she got back to her assisted living facility, they waited for her, and they clapped for her at the door, and just treated her like a rock star. It was really something to see."
"Even [just] before she passed," he added. "when I would show her pictures of the opening, she would brighten up, and start smiling, and talk about it."
As reported, a memorial service for Ruth Odom Bonner is set for September 9, at Washington's Nineteenth Street Baptist Church. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the remarkable Ruth and her family.