The National Constitution Center plans to open a permanent exhibition on May 9 exploring the Civil War and Reconstruction eras and the Constitution, officials said Thursday.
Believed to be the only such installation in the country, the exhibition – Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality – will feature many documents and artifacts from the defunct Philadelphia Civil War Library and Museum, considered one of the finest collections of its kind in the country. Most of the objects and documents have not been on public display in the city for many years, following closure of the museum about a decade ago.
The Civil War museum’s archives are now housed under the auspices of the Union League of Philadelphia. The museum’s artifacts were transferred to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2016 on the condition that a selection be permanently displayed at the Constitution Center.
“The post-Civil War amendments that emerged during Reconstruction represent the most important changes to the Constitution since the adoption of the Bill of Rights,” said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the Constitution Center, in a statement. Among other things, those amendments abolished slavery, addressed equal protection under the law, defined citizenship, and guaranteed the right to vote.
“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,” Rosen said.
The 3,000-square-foot exhibition will feature more than 100 artifacts, including original copies of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, Dred Scott’s signed petition for freedom, a pike purchased by John Brown for an armed raid to free enslaved people, a fragment of the flag that Abraham Lincoln raised at Independence Hall in 1861, and a ballot box marked “colored” from Virginia’s first statewide election that allowed black men to vote in 1867.
The center will also present a limited production run of Fourteen, a theatrical performance that will use historical texts to bring such leaders as Frederick Douglass to life for center visitors. Fourteen will begin its run on June 19, or Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the Confederacy.