National Archives’ celebration of the Bill of Rights’ 225th anniversary
As the permanent home of the Bill of Rights, no institution is better poised to celebrate the 225th anniversary of this extraordinary document than the National Archives. Doing so in grand scale in 2016 and 2017, the Archives is undertaking a groundbreaking national initiative to explore the power of the Bill of Rights and our enduring system of government through local and national exhibits for adults and children, a symposium on the current state of individual rights, and educational efforts in Washington, D.C., and around the country.
A first for the Archives, this unified platform of public programming and outreach will engage every possible audience in the story of “Amending America,” featuring digital, exhibition, educational and programmatic elements.
Between March 2016 and September 2017, nearly a million visitors will have the chance to experience “Amending America,” a special exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., which is free and open to the public.
On view in the museum’s Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, the exhibit features original documents from the National Archives that highlight the story of how we have amended, or attempted to amend, our Constitution in order to form a more perfect union.
Through four different themes, the exhibit explores the more than 11,000 proposals presented in Congress to amend the Constitution, as well as the impact the 27 ratified amendments have had on our daily lives. Topics include individual rights, the power and structure of the Federal Government, and the amending process.
In addition to the Washington, D.C., exhibition, the National Archives will undertake a unique coordinated effort to ensure that people across the country have access to the records and discussions that surround the Bill of Rights and the history of our Constitutional amendments.
The first “National Conversation,” held in Atlanta, focused on civil rights and justice and featured a Q&A between former President Jimmy Carter and Derreck Kayongo, CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The second “National Conversation,” held in Chicago, focused on the challenges to and future of civil and human rights for the LGBTQ community and featured a keynote by noted author and poet Richard Blanco.
The third “National Conversation,” held in New York, focused on women’s rights, gender equality and advocacy, and featured panel discussions and remarks by national figures, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat; New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; and awardwinning broadcast anchor and CEO of Starfish Media Group Soledad O’Brien.
The fourth “National Conversation,” held in Los Angeles, focused on immigration, access and barriers, and featured a discussion between Julissa Arce, activist and author of “My (Underground) American Dream,” and Jeff Yang, author and cultural critic.
The next event on “Education Access and Equity” will be held Feb. 1, at the George W. Bush Library and Presidential Museum, Dallas, Texas.
The series will culminate in Washington, D.C., where the Archives will host a multiday event with major political and cultural leaders. The broad initiative will be unified through online platforms and live-streaming opportunities, which in turn offer platforms for national social media engagement.
A companion traveling exhibit, “Amending America: The Bill of Rights,” is now up at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and will move to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas in January.
The exhibit will travel to numerous locations where institutions will have the opportunity to bring the content of “Amending America” to their communities.
Like the traveling exhibit, classroom pop-up displays will present key information about the Bill of Rights and Constitutional amendments. In addition to schools, libraries and community centers will be places to display the pop-up exhibit.
Exhibits at our Presidential Libraries carry through the theme. Earlier this year the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta hosted “The Continual Struggle: The American Freedom Movement and the Seeds of Social Change,” an exhibit of artwork inspired by the civil rights movement. Through the end of 2017, visitors to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, can see “A More Perfect Union: How Critical Presidential Elections Shaped the Constitution.”
To more deeply engage the public of all ages, the Archives will accompany each of the preceding elements with an array of educational and programming efforts. In addition to highlighting “Amending America” through current initiatives — such as DocsTeach. org, student and teacher workshops, themed Family Days, and other interactive learning experiences in Washington, D.C. — the Archives will greatly expand its offerings by hosting such events at regional facilities and partner institutions nationally, including Kansas City, Dallas, New York City, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
The Archives will also offer a diverse series of free public programs to further expand the audience’s understanding of the different themes addressed in “Amending America,” as well as highlight additional topics not featured in the exhibit. These programs include lectures, panel discussions, film screenings and webcasts from the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.
Military veterans visit the Rotunda of the National Archives in 2015, where they can view the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.
A father explains the Bill of Rights to his sons during a March 2016 visit to the National Archives in Washington, DC. Image by Jeff Reed, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.