Atlanta History Center’s new exhibit examines U.S. government legacy


As our country continually re-examines what it means to be government “of the people, for the people and by the people”, the Atlanta History Center offers a 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 the Atlanta collection is enriched with local artifacts and documents. The exhibit examines the legacy of the US government and how this system has been tested, improved, damaged and repaired over time. Atlanta History Center Chef de Mission Michael Rose joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to discuss how the new exhibit highlights our continued work toward a truly representative democracy.

Interview highlights:

Why now examine the foundation of American democracy?

“Right now there are a lot of questions about what democracy is and how it works. It is very current; it is certainly true. And I know that… the Atlanta History Center and a number of other institutions… are all looking at the question, “What is democracy?” How it works ? How did it work and what is its future? ‘ Rose said. “We see it as a question of history, a frame of reference. So how does the past inform the present and prepare us to move forward into the future? Democracy is not a given.

“The events we are experiencing today have a precedent in the past and understanding how these past events were handled and what the results were can help us make decisions today,” said Rose.

The leap of faith that became the new structure of government in the United States:

“It was a leap of faith because we say Americans were colonials,” Rose said. “They were loyal British subjects at the time; most were. How to make a decision? What prompts a public to decide to take up arms against their current form of government? So I think that’s, in itself, a leap of faith – making the decision to leave the form of government you’ve known all your life and try something new.

“James Madison, who is popularly known as the” Father of the Constitution, “prior to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, has spent the previous year studying its history – which we hope everyone will come here to do – but he was studying the history of democracies and republics, older and more modern… that had attempted democracies and republics in the past. They all failed. So he was trying to figure out, how can you create this form of government to be successful where others had failed before? ”

On the indigenous communities displaced by the first American settlers:

“One of the things that is important to remember about the Muskogee, commonly known as the Creek, but the Muskogee and the Cherokee are still there,” Rose said. “They are in Oklahoma, but they have traditional ties to Georgia… When we talk about the indigenous peoples of Georgia, we are not talking about archeology and anthropology, because they are living people. These nations still survive, and it is important to remember this.

“American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” is on view at the Atlanta History Center until March 23, 2022. More information and tickets are available at


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