FREEDOM: A History of US

December 10, 2002
January 25, 2003

The exhibit will run in conjunction with a landmark eight-week television series, FREEDOM: A History of US, inspired by the acclaimed book series by Joy Hakim and produced by Kunhardt Productions and WNET. Airing nationally on PBS beginning January 12, 2003, the series will offer an extraordinary visual portrait of American history, demonstrating how the principle of freedom has evolved over the last 200 years. It will be hosted and narrated by Katie Couric, with Christopher Reeve as creative consultant, and voiced by some of our nation's most distinguished actors including Tom Hanks as Abraham Lincoln, Whoopi Goldberg as Harriet Tubman, Meryl Streep as Mother Jones, Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass, and Kevin Kline as Thomas Jefferson.

This companion exhibit, which will run from December 10, 2002 through January 26, 2003, will feature 200 treasures of American history, including such items as:

  • An original letter from George Washington opposing slavery – written to a friend, expressing his desire to see slavery abolished;
  • A rare 1776 printing of the Declaration of Independence – the only known example of the South Carolina printing;
  • A secret, privately printed draft of the U.S. Constitution – for discussion among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, beginning "We the People of the States of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, …" rather than "We the People of The United States;"
  • An Abolitionist flag – hand-made in 1859 and featuring the stars and stripes of only the 20 free states; the slave-holding states having been removed;
  • A speech fragment in Abraham Lincoln's handwriting on the "House Divided" theme – conveying his expectation that slavery would eventually be abolished;
  • Lincoln's handwritten notes for a campaign "stump" speech – notes that he carried with him while running for the U.S. Senate against Steven Douglas;
  • A Matthew Brady photograph of General Robert E. Lee – with a Confederate uniform hand-painted over Lee's regular clothing, since Brady couldn't get access to him in uniform;
  • A letter from Frederick Douglass to his former master – in which he professes, "I love you but hate slavery;"
  • Photographs of slaves fleeing the South;
  • A daguerreotype of Susan B. Anthony as a young woman;
  • An 1871 appeal by Susan B. Anthony – to the Women of the United States;
  • A letter from Woodrow Wilson regarding women's suffrage;
  • A typed speech, with handwritten corrections, by Martin Luther King, Jr. –delivered at Yale University in 1959;
  • An "I am a man" lithographed poster from the sanitation workers' march led by Dr. King on April 4, 1968 – the day of Dr. King's assassination.

General Electric is sponsoring both the exhibit and the PBS special. In mid-February, the exhibit will move to Washington, DC. A traveling version will also tour 20 U.S. cities.

The exhibit is curated by James Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, Susan F. Saidenberg, Director of Exhibitions at the Institute, and Peter Kunhardt, Executive Producer of Kunhardt Productions. The Gilder Lehrman Institute was established in 1994 by businessmen and philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman to promote public interest in the history of the United States

The exhibit is being presented by Picture History, an online resource of historical photographs and footage, and is designed by Whirlwind and Company. In conjunction with Freedom: A History of US, the entire Meserve-Kunhardt Collection is being catalogued, scanned and made available to scholars, publishers, schools and the public on picturehistory.com.

Creative: Tronvig Group