Washington, D.C. — June 10, 2013 — This November, the National Archives will significantly expand its permanent exhibitions with the opening of the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery and Visitor Orientation Plaza. The project has been made possible thanks to a generous gift of $13.5 million from philanthropist David M. Rubenstein to the Foundation for the National Archives, an independent nonprofit that supports the mission and public programs of the National Archives.
The new permanent exhibition in the Rubenstein Gallery, Records of Rights, will use original documents, photographs, facsimiles, videos, and interactive exhibits to explore how Americans have worked to realize the ideals of freedom enshrined in our nation’s founding documents, and how they debated issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity. Exploring many stories—and showcasing the drive for civil rights for African Americans, women, and immigrants—the new exhibition chronicles the past and current generations whose efforts to secure equality under the law have shaped the country we live in today.
The David M. Rubenstein Gallery provides new context for the Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights—on view in the National Archives Rotunda. The new exhibition begins with an original 1297 Magna Carta, on permanent loan from David M. Rubenstein, and traces the evolution of human rights in the United States from our country’s founding through the present day.
“Behind each record in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery—whether the 15th Amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote, or the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, which ensures equal pay for women—are countless stories of courage, resilience, and the belief in a better future,” said Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero. “I want to thank David Rubenstein for his tremendous generosity that is enabling the National Archives to strengthen our role as one of the great destinations of Washington, D.C., and to deepen our ability to share with everyone the legacy of the American people’s fight for freedom.”
“As Americans, we embrace the rights and freedoms guaranteed by our founding documents, while striving to ensure that these rights apply to all and are meaningful in the present,” said David M. Rubenstein. “I’m honored that this new gallery will help the National Archives showcase its incredible collection of records that tell the story of who we are as a people, where we’ve been, and where we are going.”
Visitor Orientation Plaza
The Visitor Orientation Plaza will serve as a gathering place and a new entry point into the National Archives. The new space will serve as a public hub and provide orientation and access to the Rubenstein Gallery, the public exhibitions on the second floor, and visitor amenities such as the Archives gift shop. On the ceiling of the Orientation Plaza will be a trompe l‘oeil painting of the Archives Rotunda, giving the illusion of looking directly up into the room that holds the Charters of Freedom. The Visitor Orientation Plaza space will also feature a short film on eight plasma screens that tells the story of the National Archives and its activities, a video orientation wall highlighting the eight prime visitor destinations within the National Archives, touchscreen mapping stations for people to plan their visits, glass panel walls with projected images of different areas within the Archives building, and photo montages of work in the Research Room.
David M. Rubenstein Gallery
The Records of Rights exhibition in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery is organized around three themes: the civil rights struggles of African Americans, women, and immigrants. The exhibit area for each theme contains original documents that give personal glimpses into these struggles, and facsimiles of milestone documents as well as photographs, drawings, and videos from the National Archives.
Setting the stage at the entrance of the Records of Rights exhibition is an original 1297 Magna Carta, the first English charter to directly challenge the monarchy’s authority. This foundational document served as a precedent for the concept of freedom under law, envisioned by the founding fathers, and set in motion the process of defining civil liberties for all Americans.
In the center of the Rubenstein Gallery will be a 15-foot-long multi-touch computer interactive that showcases more than 300 National Archives documents on subjects such as workplace rights, First Amendment rights, equal rights, and Native American rights. The interactive table enables visitors to explore issues and share documents beyond those covered by the three theme areas in a dynamic, motion-activated display. The public can also access the database from their home computers and experience the exhibition beyond the gallery walls.
Bending Towards Justice examines how our nation and individual citizens struggled to reconcile the conflict between the promise of freedom and the realities of slavery and racism. Exhibits illustrate the personal experiences of African Americans from the early days of our republic, to emancipation, the Jim Crow era, and life in modern-day America. On view are the original discharge papers of a slave who fought in the Revolutionary War in order to gain his freedom, and letters to the president from children who questioned the morality of segregation. The exhibits look at the 100-year struggle from the adoption of the 15th Amendment, which granted the right to vote to all men, to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally enabled the exercise of that basic right.
Remembering the Ladies chronicles women’s efforts to have the full rights of citizens and achieve economic self-determination. Original petitions for—and against—granting the right for women to vote complement lesser-known facets of our nation’s history. “Repatriation oaths” reveal that, during the early 20th century, women derived their citizenship from their husbands and marrying a man who wasn’t a citizen meant the loss of their rights as Americans. Only when they divorced their husbands or became widows did a woman “repatriate” and become an American. Even as late as the 1970s, a woman had difficulties obtaining a mortgage or credit on her own. This section of the exhibition also explores the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment and the success of Title IX, which ensured equal opportunities in education for women.
Yearning to Breathe Free explores the notion of America as a nation of immigrants and the enduring debates on the rights of newcomers to America. Included in this section is the original 1860 census of Irish and Canadian textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts, who, like many immigrants, faced discrimination and poor working conditions. Also featured are the original immigrant case files of Wong Kim Arc, a San Franciscan and American citizen who was denied reentry to the United States after traveling to China in 1873 because of his ethnicity. These original records are supplemented by facsimiles of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and 1884 Statue of Liberty Deed of Gift, which symbolize the Federal Government’s contradictory attempts to both grant and limit the rights of immigrants.
About the National Archives Experience
The National Archives Experience museum includes the renovated Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, the award-winning Public Vaults permanent interactive exhibition, the William G. McGowan Theater, the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery for special exhibits, the Boeing Learning Center, the Digital Vaults online exhibit, and DocsTeach, a web based educational resource—as well as the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery and Visitor Orientation Center which will open in November, 2013.
The National Archives Experience was created by the National Archives and Records Administration in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives, and has transformed the visitor experience at the Archives’ Washington, D.C. building. These exhibitions and initiatives make the rich resources of the National Archives accessible to Americans nationwide.
About the National Archives
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and presidential libraries, as well as at www.archives.gov.
About the Foundation for the National Archives
The Foundation for the National Archives is an independent nonprofit organization that serves as the National Archives’ private-sector partner in the ongoing support of the National Archives’ public exhibitions and programs. The Foundation helps the public understand the importance of the holdings of the National Archives, and generates financial and creative support for the Archives from individuals, foundations, and corporations who share a belief in the importance of innovative education about our nation’s records and history.
About David M. Rubenstein
A native of Baltimore, David M. Rubenstein is co-CEO and managing director of The Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset manager. In addition to his loan of an original Magna Carta to the National Archives, he has lent a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Oval Office, rare copies of the Declaration of Independence to the State Department and the National Archives, and the first official map of the United States published after the Revolution to the Library of Congress.
A magna cum laude graduate of Duke, Rubenstein graduated in 1973 from The University of Chicago Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review. After practicing law in New York, he served from 1975-76 as Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments. From 1977-81, during the Carter Administration, Rubenstein was Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. After his White House service, he practiced law at a private firm in Washington, and then co-founded The Carlyle Group in 1987.
In addition to his work with the National Archives, Rubenstein is chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a regent of the Smithsonian Institution and on the board of Directors or Trustees of Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Chicago, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the American Academy in Berlin, and Ford’s Theater.