Freedom. Liberty. Equality.
The promises of the Constitution have guided this nation since its founding. Reconstruction created a revolutionary opportunity to “make good the promises” of the Constitution to all Americans, as Frederick Douglass said in 1876. These promises have continued to guide Americans to take up the work that Reconstruction left unfinished—reconstructing the nation on the basis of true freedom and equality.
During Reconstruction, African Americans helped lead the effort to rebuild the nation without slavery. Their quest to secure full citizenship rights, as promised in the Constitution, expanded the definition of who is included in American democracy.
Although Reconstruction transformed the nation in fundamental ways, its work remains unfinished, its promises unfulfilled. New generations, from the 20th century Civil Rights Movement to today’s Black Lives Matter movement, have taken up the challenge of creating a more just, free, and equitable society. Guided by the promises of equality, the belief in the possibility of change, and the willingness to reckon with the hard truths of history, the work of reconstructing America continues.
In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.
Barack Obama, 2008
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
James Baldwin, 1962
You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.
Angela Y. Davis, 2014
American society changes by the choices and actions of its people, and many people are seeking to change our world. They are voting, volunteering, donating, speaking out, building consensus, supporting communities, elevating voices, and participating in conservation efforts.
The museum posed the question, “How Would You Reconstruct America?” to encourage visitors to be agents of change in their world and communities. Visitors' reflections covered topics such as helping the community, practicing environmental sustainability, being kind and loving towards themselves and others, speaking truth to power, and learning about the past in order to create a better future.
Over 12,000 visitors to the Make Good the Promises exhibition shared their thoughts on building a more equitable America. Explore a selection of visitor responses below.
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit—
It’s the past we step into, and how we repair it.
Amanda Gorman, excerpt from “The Hill We Climb”, 2021