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History Center partners with Smithsonian for new American Democracy exhibition


Last updated 3/17/2021 at 8:52pm

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

The History Center will examine the bold experiment to create a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" in its new exhibition, American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith. In this photo, students from Pittsburgh participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. The "W. Penna March on Washington" banner is on view in the exhibition.

Revolutionary Americans took a great leap of faith by establishing a new government based on the sovereignty of the people. Since that revolution, generations of Americans have been on a quest to form "a more perfect union."

The Senator John Heinz History Center will examine this bold experiment to create a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" in its new exhibition, American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, at the Smithsonian's home in Pittsburgh.

Developed in partnership with the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), this timely exhibit will provide much-needed historical context following a year that included heated elections, civil unrest, and challenges to our democracy.

With rare artifacts, engaging interactives, and immersive exhibit design, the American Democracy exhibit showcases the history of how we've voted, protested, and engaged with our politics, from the nation's formation to today.

The History Center's exhibit will reveal how Pittsburghers and events in Western Pennsylvania history have helped shape our democracy, including the Whiskey Rebellion, African American and women's suffrage, the civil rights movement, and more. 

Highlights of the 7,000-square-foot exhibit include:

Artifacts from our nation's Founding Fathers, including a Pennsylvania land grant signed by Benjamin Franklin and a travel desk that belonged to George Washington (on loan from Carnegie Museums); and a replica of Thomas Jefferson's writing desk from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History;

Powerful objects of politics and protest, including a banner carried by University of Pittsburgh students during the famous "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" in 1963; a Black Construction Coalition flag; and campaign buttons and ribbons from 1840 to present day;

A special section on citizenship in a diverse society and Pittsburgh's role in the development of the U.S. naturalization exam;

Artifacts showcasing our region's history and impact on the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990.

Now more than ever, history and civics education are critical to the health of our democracy.

The American Democracy exhibition is a key component of the History Center's America 101 civics initiative. By engaging visitors through public programs, special exhibitions, digital learning tools, and educational curriculum, the America 101 initiative empowers citizens to know and act on the promise of the country's founders, enabling them to write the next chapter of our democracy. 

A recent study by the Institute for Citizens and Scholars found that only four out of 10 Americans could pass the U.S. citizenship test. By 2026 – America's 250th birthday – the History Center's America 101 initiative will ensure that citizens in Western Pa. and beyond are more knowledgeable about American history and able to pass the history and civics portion of the naturalization exam.

With six floors of exhibit space and 370,000 square feet, the Heinz History Center offers a safe and comfortable experience for the entire family to enjoy. For more information on the museum's extensive health and safety measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, visit the center's website,

Advance tickets to the History Center's American Democracy exhibition are strongly encouraged. To purchase tickets, visit

The American Democracy exhibit, which will be on view through Sunday, Oct. 10, is supported by presenting sponsors Nimick Forbesway Foundation, Eden Hall Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and Richard King Mellon Foundation.


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