Civil War and Reconstruction Exhibit Opens at National Constitution Center

It is the Constitution Center's newest permanent exhibit.

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia opened its newest permanent exhibit, Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality this week.

It might sound like a Captain America movie, but it actually explores how constitutional debate shaped the history of the nation, and vice versa.

The National Constitution Center is thrilled to open the first permanent gallery in America that will tell the story of how the freedom and equality promised in the Declaration of Independence was thwarted in the original Constitution, resurrected by Lincoln at Gettysburg, and, after the bloodiest war in American history, finally enshrined in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution,” says Jeffrey Rosen, President/CEO of the National Constitution Center.

With the use of over 100 artifacts donated by the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia and other partners, Civil War and Reconstruction takes visitors on America’s journey to freedom and equality. From the American experience under slavery to the fight for equality during Reconstruction, it tells the stories of both famous figures, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and lesser-known characters, such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

Harper, widely regarded as the mother of African-American journalism, is featured through a dramatic live reading of the statement she gave before Congress advocating for the ratification of the 14th Amendment.

The main focus of the exhibit is the history of three constitutional amendments added between 1865 and 1870, which ended slavery, promised equal protection to all people, and expanded the right to vote to African-American men. The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments are on display, both the original documents and digital interactives that let guests explore the debate around the language used in them.

There are also hands-on artifact workshops and educator-led shows for all ages.

Emancipation proclamation

To help make the most of the experience, the Center offers an exhibit gallery talk, where museum educators introduce visitors to key concepts presented in the exhibit, as well as guided tours, which must be booked in advance. (Special opening-weekend events are being held through Sunday.)

“It’s an honor for all of us at the Constitution Center to have worked on this permanent addition to the Center,” says Rosen, “which will educate visitors of all ages about what some have called America’s Second Founding.”

Sawyer Thomson is an intern at MetroKids from Drexel University

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