About the National Archives

National Conversation, Rights and Justice

Welcome Remarks
National Conversation, Rights and Justice
Perot Museum, Dallas, TX, March 7, 2017

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 want 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 will build on the National Archives’ holdings, connecting key foundational documents to the challenges before us. But our larger goal is 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.

From public schools to charter schools to vouchers for private schools to home-schooling, to standardized testing, to the cost of higher education and whether it is worth it, education in the United States is a hot topic these days.

President Donald Trump has called Education “the civil rights issue of our time.” In his address to Congress last week, the President called upon lawmakers to “pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.” He also shined a light on the Historically Black Colleges and Universities by signing an Executive Order recognizing their importance and pledged support of their shared mission of bringing education and opportunity to all people. In addition, he signed bills supporting business programs for women and encouraging them to pursue careers in math and science

On the other side of the political spectrum, Democrats are committed to early childhood education and universal preschool programs. They want to make good public schools available to every child and that all students should be taught to high academic standards. They believe higher education should be accessible to everyone. They recognize education as one of the most pressing economic issues for the future. And for the next generation to be competitive and successful, American students need higher education but without the crippling student debt.

One thing both sides do agree on is that every child should have an equal opportunity to get a great education—regardless of their zip code.

At the National Archives, we use our records as educational tools. We offer an array of programs throughout the country: lectures, symposiums, performances, film programs, family day programs, adult workshops, teacher and student tours and workshops, collaborative programs with community partners like cultural and educational institutions, and college-credited online courses for educators. We provide educational resources through DocsTeach, our online tool for teaching with documents. We support the National History Day Program for students to study and learn about historical issues at events at our locations across the country.

We have ongoing web-based programs that reach students in their classroom nationally and international. Here in Texas, the National Archives participates in Connect2Texas, a network of Texas-based educational content providers including museums, cultural, historical, and scientific organizations, and authors. They utilize interactive video conferencing to deliver live educational programs and professional development to school children and educators across the country. One class we have is for kindergarten through second grade. Students are introduced to the concept of rights, discuss why rights are important, and learn about the Bill of Rights with Sammy, the American Bald Eagle Puppet.

All of our educational programs and tools draw from the National Archives’ holdings.

Several National Archives locations across the country as well as other cultural institutions, such as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science this evening, 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; and Immigration: Barriers and Access were held last year in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. Our culminating event, Building a More Perfect Union, will take place in Washington, DC, later this year.

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. 

And now we are going to view the introductory film featuring Congressman John Lewis, narrated by Cokie Roberts, entitled “Amending America.”


Now, I would like to introduce our speakers for the keynote conversation on “Quality Education for Everyone.”

First is my friend Cokie Roberts. She is a familiar name around Washington, DC. She is a political commentator for ABC News, where she previously co-anchored the ABC Sunday morning show, This Week.  She is also a contributor to NPR Morning Edition, where she once was congressional correspondent. In her more than 40 years in broadcasting, she has won countless awards, including three Emmys. She has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, and was cited by the American Women in Radio and Television as one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting. In addition to her reporting, Roberts has written six New York Times bestsellers, most dealing with the roles of women in U.S. history.

She has been active in National Archives projects for a number of years and is a vice president of the National Archives Foundation.

The Library of Congress named her a “Living Legend,” one of the very few Americans to have attained that honor. I couldn’t agree more.

Joining Cokie is Gregg Fleisher, the president of the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated empowering teachers and equipping students with the STEM knowledge and skills they need to thrive in college and the workforce of the 21st century. As president, Gregg serves as the Initiative’s key liaison with school district leaders, state and national STEM education partners, and public and private funders, while providing strategic direction and oversight of the Initiative’s proven programs. He started his career as an auditor and actuary, but found his true passion as a math teacher. He taught high school math for 14 years in Dallas Independent School District, where his work at the district level led to unprecedented student performance in Advanced Placement calculus, particularly among traditionally underrepresented students.

Previously, Gregg served as president of AP Strategies, Inc., where he successfully implemented education programs focused on improving student participation and performance in rigorous math and science courses in over 70 districts across the state of Texas.  The success of AP Strategies led to the formation of National Math and Science Initiative as a public-private partnership in 2007. Under his leadership, the programs have grown to reach more than 1,000 high schools and 45 universities, and are producing measurable and lasting results for more than 50,000 teachers and 1.5 million students across 40 states. Gregg currently serves on the Board of Trustees for the College Board, Head Start Greater Dallas, and The Perot Museum Council; and on the Education Advisory Council for code.org.

Please welcome Cokie Roberts and Gregg Fleisher.