Archivist's remarks at reception for the opening of "Records of Rights"
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 7 p.m.
Thank you, A'Lelia. I'm very pleased to welcome all of you to the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery and the permanent exhibition "Records of Rights" at the National Archives.
David Rubenstein is a passionate advocate for the National Archives and for educating all Americans about our shared history. His many gifts to us and to other cultural institutions have done much to promote public awareness of our nation's history.
We are deeply grateful to him for his generous gift to the Foundation for the National Archives that made possible this new gallery, which showcases the long struggle to secure and exercise individual rights for all Americans.
The centerpiece of "Records of Rights" is the 1297 Magna Carta, which David purchased five years ago because he believed the one copy of this famous charter in the United States should not leave this country.
The principles of individual rights set down in Magna Carta and the belief that no one is above the law inspired the founders of the American republic. They embedded those rights into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and subsequent generations have developed, debated, and enlarged the concept of citizens' rights, as we see in the documents displayed throughout this exhibition.
The three major sections of "Records of Rights" highlight the struggles of Americans to define and realize their civil rights through the stories of African Americans, women, and immigrants. Through documents, photographs, drawings, and films from National Archives holdings, we explore how our forerunners sought to fulfill the promise of freedom set out in our founding documents.
At the center of the gallery is what we call the interactive table. The large touch-screen table offers a selection of over 300 Archives documents about Americans struggling to define, attain, and protect their rights related to a wide variety of issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity.
Visitors can explore the documents, highlight individual records, react to their stories, and share them with others. They can even continue their exploration online through the website RecordsofRights.org.
With the Rubenstein Gallery and our new exhibition, visitors to the National Archives Museum will have access to even more of our remarkable holdings. An important part of improving that access is the elegant new Orientation Plaza, where we're gathered now. It offers visitors a welcoming place where they can get their bearings and plan their visits to the rest of the museum.
In the center of the floor is a bronze medallion of an eagle holding a Latin inscription—Littera Scripta Manet. The words, which are the National Archives motto, loosely translate to "The Written Word Endures." Here at the National Archives, we are dedicated to ensuring that the written word—as well as film, audio, and digital messages—endure for all ages.
For the past several years, staff throughout the National Archives have been working to create this exhibit. Archivists, conservators, photographers, curators, designers, editors, registrars, and more have all contributed their hard work and expertise to building "Records of Rights." I would especially like to recognize the curators, Bruce Bustard, Jen Johnson, Michael Hussey, Alice Kamps, Corinne Porter, and Darlene McClurkin. They will be in the gallery this evening to answer any questions you may have.
I also want to give special thanks to Christina Rudy Smith, Director of the National Archives Museum. After more than 30 years dedicated to the National Archives, Chris is retiring in just a week and a half. She has ably guided the National Archives Museum for the last several years and was a registrar, curator, and branch chief before that. Thank you, Chris, for guiding our exhibits program to increase public awareness of the treasures of the National Archives and for your dedication to unlocking the stories held in our records.
For many years, we have received support from the Foundation for the National Archives as we pursue our mission of preserving and making available the records of our Federal government. Through its financial and creative support, the Foundation has given us the means that allow National Archives staff to serve the public and increase awareness of our remarkable holdings in many ways. The new exhibition you see today, the Public Vaults, the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery, and the Boeing Learning Center upstairs, as well as the William G. McGowan Theater and our outreach efforts online are all made possible with the Foundation's help.
The National Archives is indebted to David Rubenstein three times over. First, for his decision to acquire Magna Carta and to make it accessible to the American people through the National Archives. Second, for his tangible contributions to make this new gallery possible and to develop our new orientation and exhibition spaces. And third, and most heartfelt, for his personal commitment to the preservation, access, and understanding of our documentary heritage. David's enthusiasm for using great historic records as tools for advancing civic understanding is self-evident, and we are all the beneficiaries.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome David Rubenstein.