Welcome Remarks National Conversations on Rights and Justice: “Building A More Perfect Union”
Good morning! Welcome to the National Archives Building and to the culminating event of our series of National Conversations.
In 2014, I attended a Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The summit brought four U.S. presidents, civil rights leaders, scholars, and activists together to discuss the future of civil rights advocacy in America. One of the biggest things to come out of the conference for me was the realization that there is so much more to say about rights and justice 52 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act. And the idea for the National Conversations was born out of this need to continue these crucial discussions.
As a Federal agency, the National Archives is responsible for the Charters of Freedom––the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights––and for the collection and protection of 13 billion other records that tell the American story and its continued challenges and successes towards creating a more perfect union.
We have chosen the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights to feature an exhibit “Amending America,” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC. As the permanent home of the Bill of Rights, no institution is better poised than the National Archives to not only celebrate the anniversary of this extraordinary document but also explore its meaning for civil rights today. We wanted to use this moment to engage Americans in conversations about complicated issues such as class, gender, politics, race, religion, and sexual orientation through the National Conversations. The content of the discussions build on the National Archives’ holdings, connecting key foundational documents to the challenges before us. But our larger goal was more ambitious—to advance discussion of these critical issues in communities across the nation and to bring to the forefront challenges to rights and justice that persist 225 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
Over the past year several National Archives locations across the country as well as other cultural institutions have hosted the National Conversations. Our first one concerning Civil Rights and Individual Freedom was held at the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta in May. Subsequent conversations concerning LGBTQ Human and Civil Rights; Women’s Rights and Gender Equality; Immigration: Barriers and Access; and Educational Access and Equity were held in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Dallas. And now we are here at the National Archives Building for our final event, Building a More Perfect Union, an event which will bring all these conversations together.
I want to express our gratitude to our partner, the National Archives Foundation, for supporting this series. And a big thanks goes out to our lead sponsor for the Amending America initiative AT&T, as well as the Ford Foundation and Seedlings Foundation for their belief in and support of the National Conversations.