George W. Bush, Michelle Obama share a hug at black museum opening

The first lady put her arms around the former president at the opening of the National African American History and Culture Museum, a gesture of a warmth that runs counter to an increasingly polarized political climate.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
First lady Michelle Obama (c.) hugs former President George W. Bush, as President Obama and former first lady Laura Bush walk on stage at the dedication ceremony of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington on Saturday.

Saturday marked the opening of the first national museum dedicated to the African American experience, as well as the public display of an unlikely friendship between first lady Michelle Obama and former President George W. Bush. 

The two shared a hug at the dedication for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., as President Obama spoke of the country coming together, in the wake of two police shootings of black men in recent weeks, to acknowledge the racial injustices of the past and of the work needed toward solutions for the future.

Former President Bush, a Republican, who authorized the construction of the museum in 2003, and his wife, Laura, joined the Democratic president and current first lady on stage. At one point during the dedication, Ms. Obama reached over and pulled the former president in for a hug, while their spouses looked on and clapped. 

The embrace comes at a time when, amid an increasingly polarized political climate, Republicans and Democrats feel more animosity toward one another than ever before, according to Pew research surveys. As the Christian Science Monitor's Story Hinckley reported in June

The trend is driven more by fear than anger, with voters increasingly rooting for one party in order to reject a group they perceive as dangerous – a growing phenomenon called "negative partisanship." The unpopularity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is seen as an example of the trend.

And just as the ideological wall is growing taller in Washington, the same divide is being manifested in suburban America as Republicans and Democrats choose to interact with one another less and less, allowing stereotypes to flourish. 

Ms. Obama and former President Bush may be one exception to this polarization, as this is not the first time the two have displayed their bond of friendship in public. In July, they joined hands during a singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at an interfaith memorial service for the victims of the Dallas police shooting. The previous year, the pair sat together at a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights march in Selma, Ala. 

Speaking on Saturday, President Obama emphasized the importance of unity and bridging the communication gap between Americans of different backgrounds. 

"Hopefully, this museum can help us to talk to each other," President Obama said. "And more importantly, listen to each other. And most importantly, see each other. Black and white and Latino and Native American and Asian American – see how our stories are bound together." 

This report contains material from Reuters. 

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