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Atlanta History Center's new exhibit examines the legacy of American government | 90.1 FM WABE – WABE 90.1 FM

As our country continually reexamines what it means to be a government “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” the Atlanta History Center offers some historical perspective with a new traveling exhibition: “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith.” The Smithsonian National Museum of American History created the exhibit, but Atlanta’s collection is enhanced with local artifacts and documents. The exhibit examines the legacy of the American government and how that system has been tested, improved, damaged and repaired over time. The Atlanta History Center’s chief mission officer Michael Rose joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to discuss how the new exhibit sheds light on our continuing work towards a truly representative democracy.
Interview highlights:
Why examine the founding of American democracy now?
“Right now, there are a lot of questions about what democracy is and how it functions. It’s very topical; that’s certainly true. And I know that … the Atlanta History Center and a number of other institutions … are all looking at the question of ‘What is democracy? How does it function? How has it functioned and what is its future?’” said Rose. “We look at it as a matter of history, a frame of reference. So how does the past inform the present and prepare us to move forward in the future? Democracy is not a given.”
“Events that we’re living through today have a precedent in the past and understanding how those events in the past were handled, and what the outcomes of those were, can help guide us in making decisions today,” said Rose.
The leap of faith that became America’s novel structure of government:
“It was a leap of faith because we say Americans — they were colonials,” said Rose. “They were loyal British subjects at that point in time; most were. How do you make a decision? What drives a public to make the decision to take up arms against their existing form of government? So I think that that is, in and of itself, a leap of faith — to make that decision to leave the form of government that you have experienced your whole life and attempt something new.”
“James Madison, who is popularly known as the ‘Father of the Constitution,’ before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, he spent the year prior to that studying his history — which is what we hope everyone will come here to do — but he was studying the history of democracies and republics, ancient and more modern … that had attempted democracies and republics in the past. They all failed. So he was trying to understand, how can you create this form of government to succeed where others had failed before?”
On the indigenous communities displaced by America’s early settlers:
“One of the things that’s important to remember about the Muskogee, commonly known as Creek, but the Muskogee and the Cherokee are still here,” said Rose. “They are in Oklahoma, but they have traditional ties to Georgia … When we speak of the indigenous people of Georgia, we’re not talking archeology and anthropology, because these are living people. Those nations still survive, and it’s important to remember.”
“American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” is on view at the Atlanta History Center through March 23, 2022. More information and tickets are available at www.atlantahistorycenter.com/exhibitions/american-democracy-a-great-leap-of-faith/
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