For the Love of Freedom: An Inspirational Sampling
“In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.”
—Phillis Wheatley, 1774
These words demonstrate the classically-inspired and Christianity-infused artistry of poet Phillis Wheatley, through whose work a deep love of liberty and quest for freedom rings. Sold into slavery as a child, Wheatley became the first African American author of a book of poetry when her words were published in 1773, when she was only 20 years old. Her yearning for equality and dignity shows us the long arc of those fighting for, claiming, and exercising their rights, all while throwing off the yoke of oppression.
Since the museum closed its doors on March 14, we have shifted our work to online offerings for teachers, students, and families, while also documenting the intersecting viral and racial crises, caring for our vast collections, and preparing for reopening in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.
While we hope the museum can welcome onsite visitors soon, we are thrilled to share that a modest but mighty outdoor display will open on August 27.
For the Love of Freedom: An Inspirational Sampling features stirring statements from remarkable movement leaders and freedom fighters, the centerpiece of which is civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer’s portrait and powerful words on freedom installed on the face of our building.
Signs around the museum host quotations (all with Spanish translations) from other activists and leaders throughout U.S. history. We hope these words resonate with the efforts of so many to, as Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III recently stated, “demand a country live up to its stated ideals.”
As the nation’s history museum, one of our highest callings is to recognize and document history as it happens, and to place it in context with the past. We hope the voices of historical figures will encourage passersby to understand and embrace protest as a fundamental part of democracy.
Yours in all the good fights,
Anthea M. Hartig, PhD, Elizabeth MacMillan Director, National Museum of American History
Fannie Lou Hamer
“Hope will never be silent.”
—Harvey Milk, gay rights activist, 1977
Ida B. Wells
“You have to join every other movement for the freedom of people.”
—Bayard Rustin, civil rights activist, 1986
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”
—Ella Baker, civil rights activist, 1964
“Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk. . . . Work for justice!”
—Dolores Huerta, labor activist 1975
“Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”
—Congressman John Lewis, 2020