Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality

Experience America’s first exhibit devoted to exploring how constitutional clashes over slavery set the stage for the Civil War, and how the nation transformed the Constitution after the war to more fully embrace the Declaration of Independence’s promise of liberty and equality.

Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality
The National Constitution Center’s new permanent exhibit, Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality, is the first in America devoted to exploring how constitutional clashes over slavery set the stage for the Civil War, and how the nation transformed the Constitution after the war to more fully embrace the Declaration of Independence’s promise of liberty and equality. Through remarkable artifacts and rare documents from one of the largest private Civil War collections in America—the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia—and other partners, the 3,000 square foot exhibit brings to life the stories of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, and other figures central to the conflict over slavery. The exhibit also features the inspiring stories of lesser known individuals to help shed light on the American experience under slavery, the battle for freedom during the Civil War, and the fight for equality during Reconstruction, which many call the nation’s “Second Founding.” In doing so, visitors will learn the history of three constitutional amendments added between 1865 and 1870, which ended slavery, required states to respect individual rights, promised equal protection to all people, and expanded the right to vote to African-American men. 

As visitors explore Civil War and Reconstruction, they will encounter a one-actor performance in the 14th Amendment section of the exhibit highlighting Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a key African-American figure from the Reconstruction era. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a staunch abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, writer, and public speaker, speaks out in this 1875 address to the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, outlining the work yet to be done in the cause for African-American freedom. Performances will run two times an hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, May 9 through Memorial Day Weekend 2019, and be available on select dates throughout fall of 2019 and in February 2020. This performance is produced by the National Constitution Center, directed by Walter DeShields, performed by Nastassja Baset Whitman, and designed by Tara Webb and Sara Outing.

Artifact highlights include:

  • Original copies of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (Private collector courtesy of Seth Kaller, Inc.) 
  • Dred Scott’s signed petition for freedom, 1846 (St. Louis Circuit Court, Missouri State Archives–St. Louis)
  • Pike purchased by John Brown for his planned Harpers Ferry Raid, an armed raid to free enslaved people, 1857 (From the Collection of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia on loan from Gettysburg Foundation)
  • Fragment of the flag that Abraham Lincoln raised at Independence Hall, 1861 (From the Collection of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia on loan from Gettysburg Foundation)
  • Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by David Bustill Bowser, an African-American artist, ca. 1864-1868 (From the Collection of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia on loan from Gettysburg Foundation)
  • Commemorative copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln, 1864 (On loan from The Galbraith Family 2012 Trust)

FOURTEEN: A Theatrical Performance
For a limited production run beginning on June 19 (Juneteenth)—the holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the Confederate States of America—visitors can experience FOURTEEN, a moving theatrical performance that sheds new light on the Reconstruction era and the ratification of the 14th Amendment. Through dramatic interpretation of original texts, such as Frederick Douglass’s open letter “To My Old Master,” the 30-minute performance will bring to life the leaders, influential figures, and everyday Americans who were central to the era. FOURTEEN: A Theatrical Performance will be performed in the Center’s Bank of America Theater—adjacent to the main exhibit space. After opening June 19,FOURTEEN will run two times a day June 20 – June 26 and will run four times a day June 27 – August 10. The performance will return in fall 2019 and spring 2020. This production has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

FOURTEEN is created in collaboration and consultation with nationally recognized, award-winning artists and scholars, including Drama Desk Award-winning theater artist Suli Holum, Philadelphia Foundry member and theatre artist Alexandra Espinoza, script and research advisor, three-time Obie Award-winning playwright, director, and actor Ain Gordon; the internationally acclaimed theater company Elevator Repair Service and sound design by Tony Award-winning sound designer and composer Rob Kaplowitz and Barrymore Award nominated sound designer Daniel Ison. This production is led by the Center’s director of theatre programs Nora Quinn.

Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality is made possible thanks to a partnership among:

This exhibit gallery is made possible thanks to the generous support of:

Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation
The George Family Foundation
The Pew Charitable Trusts    |    William Penn Foundation
PECO    |    Crystal Trust    |    The McLean Contributionship
Otto Haas Charitable Trust, at the recommendation of John and Janet Haas
Board of Governors of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Tourism Office
Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development
Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program of the Commonwealth

Reconstruction and the 14th Amendment Theatre Programs, including the in-gallery performance, The Great Problem to be Solved, and FOURTEEN: A Theatrical Performance, are supported by:

 

Special thanks to Kurt Lash from the University of Richmond School of Law for generously sharing his research and offering his expertise to produce the original gallery interactive created to teach the drafting process of each Reconstruction Amendments’ text. Kurt Lash, The Reconstruction Amendments: Essential Documents (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

 

About the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia
The Civil War Museum of Philadelphia was chartered in 1888, but the museum’s history and its collection had their beginnings as the Civil War ended in 1865. The Civil War Museum of Philadelphia’s collection is one of the most significant of Civil War relics in the country. Comprising some 3,000 artifacts, several thousand photographs, hundreds of works of art, scores of maps and charts, and nearly 100 linear feet of letters, diaries, muster rolls, and other archival materials, the collections of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia rank among the largest and most comprehensive in the United States. More than 80 percent of the materials came to the museum directly from Civil War veterans or their descendants. Since 2010 the collection has been cared for by the Gettysburg Foundation and stored at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.

About the Gettysburg Foundation
The Gettysburg Foundation is a non-profit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg. The Foundation raised funds for and now operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, which opened in April 2008. In addition to operating the Museum and Visitor Center, the Foundation has a broad preservation mission that includes land, monument and artifact preservation and battlefield rehabilitation—all in support of the National Park Service’s goals at Gettysburg.

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