Found­ing gen­er­a­tion, not just fa­thers, fo­cus of new mu­seum

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY ERRIN HAINES WHACK

PHILADEL­PHIA | Along­side a dis­play of the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence at the Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, a sep­a­rate tableau tells the story of Mum bet, an en­slaved black woman in Mas­sachusetts who, upon hear­ing the doc­u­ment read aloud, an­nounced that its procla­ma­tion that “all men are cre­ated equal” should also in­clude her.

In re­sponse, her mas­ter hit her with a fry­ing pan. Mum bet sued him, won her free­dom in court, changed her name to Elizabeth Free­man and be­came a nurse.

Her case set a precedent pro­hibit­ing slav­ery in the state.

The story is a re­minder that dur­ing the strug­gle for our na­tion’s lib­erty, the 400,000 African-Amer­i­cans who lived in slav­ery in 1776 also longed to be free.

Such sto­ries are found through­out the mu­seum, which opens Wed­nes­day in Philadel­phia — co­in­cid­ing with the 242nd an­niver­sary of the bat­tle at Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord, the “shot heard ’round the world” that be­gan the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War in 1775.

The more in­clu­sive, clear-eyed view of the coun­try’s turn­ing points is an in­ten­tional de­par­ture from the white­washed story Amer­ica has of­ten told it­self and the world.

In­stead, the mu­seum seeks to show vis­i­tors that the Rev­o­lu­tion was a set of as­pi­ra­tional ideas founded on equal­ity, in­di­vid­ual rights and free­dom that re­main rel­e­vant today, said mu­seum Pres­i­dent Michael Quinn.

“These ideas ral­lied peo­ple from all walks of life, and they took those ideas to heart,” Mr. Quinn said. “What uni­fies us as a peo­ple is our shared, com­mon com­mit­ment to these ideas.”

At sev­eral points through­out the mu­seum, vis­i­tors are forced to con­front the con­tra­dic­tions of the high-minded ideals of the framers of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the re­al­i­ties of their time, in­clud­ing slav­ery and the sec­ond-class sta­tus of women.

Slav­ery, for ex­am­ple, would ex­pand for nearly an­other cen­tury af­ter the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War ended, and de­spite ar­gu­ing for their lib­erty at the start of Amer­ica, women in the United States would fight for suf­frage into the early 20th cen­tury.

The mes­sage: The ideals of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion be­long not only to the Found­ing Fa­thers long revered by our coun­try but also to the found­ing gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans who first heard them and the gen­er­a­tions that have come since.

“For over two cen­turies, if you said the words ‘founders of this coun­try,’ the im­age that would pop to most peo­ple’s minds would be a white man,” said Scott Stephen­son, vice pres­i­dent of col­lec­tions, exhibitions and pro­gram­ming. “In­creas­ingly, we at mu­se­ums have re­al­ized we have got to tell a broader story.”

One ex­hibit fea­tures the story of the Oneida In­di­ans, one of the first al­lies to sup­port the nascent Amer­ica, who fought and died along­side the colonist sol­diers.

Also on dis­play is the ac­tive role of African-Amer­i­cans, en­slaved and free, in the war, fight­ing with both the Con­ti­nen­tal and Bri­tish armies, show­ing that blacks were pa­tri­ots also fight­ing for their own free­dom.

His­tor­i­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tions con­jured from di­aries and let­ters of the lives of five men and women who took var­i­ous routes to free­dom dur­ing the war are pre­sented in an in­ter­ac­tive dig­i­tal in­stal­la­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In ad­di­tion to the fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tive of the Found­ing Fa­thers, the Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion in Philadel­phia tells the sto­ries of women and slaves.

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