Upcoming Exhibits

Experience America’s first exhibit gallery devoted to exploring the constitutional debates of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

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. Opening at the National Constitution Center May 9, 2019.

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.

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