As he waited to take the stage for the African American history museum’s groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning, Rep. John Lewis (D) thought about another historic moment on the National Mall that he had played a central role in planning.

JUNE 3: Rep. John Lewis poses in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. D.C. (Nikki Kahn/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Lewis joined President Obama, Michelle Obama and others to usher in the Smithsonian’s newest museum on the National Mall which is set to open in 2015. The day started as most days do for Lewis from his Capitol Hill home:he was up at 5 a.m. for meetings with staff and breakfast.

But as he talked with well wishers and old friends, it was clear that even for a man who has fought and won many civil rights battles, this groundbreaking morning was more than another ribbon cutting.

“Eleanor... thank you,” Lewis said to longtime friend Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) as she stopped to give him a hug and kiss on the cheek.

“It’s not quite free at last, John, but almost,” she replied.

Then he was whisked off, ready for the moment he had worked for more than two decades.

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