Who is free? Who is included? Who is equal? Americans have struggled to answer these questions in the face of differing, sometimes competing visions for the country. But answer them they did, and so must we.
Enjoy the media installation that illustrates these ideas, and then explore the three cases along the wall to your left.
The importation of enslaved African peoples and slavery’s acceptance by founders of the new nation bound the country to an institution at odds with its ideals of equality, liberty, and freedom. Even as northern and southern economies benefited from enslaved labor, some people raised their voices and acted in objection. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment promised citizenship for newly freed people.
Identification tag worn by enslaved person, early 1800s
Medal made for supporters of slavery’s abolition, early 1800s
Beginning in the 1850s thousands of Chinese journeyed to the American West, encouraged by the promise of gold rush prosperity. Their race, perceived cultural difference, and impact on jobs troubled white Americans. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the only law to block a specific group from entering the United States. It also was the first of many restrictive immigration laws. The act was repealed in 1943.
Sculpture illustrating Asian exclusion, 1880s
Statuette of Statue of Liberty, seen by many as a symbol of inclusion and acceptance, 1880s
In the 1900s blacks were segregated from whites by law and custom throughout society. Increasingly after World War II, African Americans insisted on full citizenship, and many joined them. They realized legal steps toward an integrated society with the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Local communities did not always agree on how to implement the laws.
Yearbook from segregated school, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1947
School bus window broken in protest of transportation programs to integrate Boston schools, 1972–1973
The tour’s next stop is a case called Religion: Places of Worship. It is on the other side of the Work: In the Garment Industry section, directly behind you.