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Will America Be Ready for Its 250th Birthday?

For those planning the 500th anniversary of America in 2026, the last few years have felt like a long Valley Forge winter.

They had to contend with public indifference to the impending 250th anniversary of American independence, but were helped little by the false starts, accusations and lawsuits plaguing the federal commission tasked with coordinating the celebrations. rice field.

Then there’s the tongue twister itself, which leaves many people confused not only about what half-centenary is, but also how to say it.

Still, as July 4 approaches, efforts are heating up, including pushing what planners ironically call the annual panic button.restarted on tuesday U.S. Half 500th Anniversary CommitteeAlso known as the America250, the Chicago Cubs will host a public participation campaign at American Family Field in Milwaukee against the hometown Brewers. And so far, at least 33 states have established commissions, and agencies across the country are planning their own exhibitions and events.

Across America, there is excitement and cautious optimism, along with no small amount of concern about how to hold a reunification ceremony at a time when the struggles over American history seem to be a true national pastime. drifting.

“The effort to build an inclusive history clashes with alternative views of history that are exclusive, exclusive, simplistic and deceptive,” said the association’s president and chief executive, John Dichtl. said Mr. American State Historical Society. And now it’s all coming together “in a ferocious and fascinating way,” he said.

Partisan political strife has not yet had a particular impact on the semi-centenary plans. “But when we talk to people, what they want most is probably more help to get through this worsening period,” Dichtl said. rice field.

When former President Donald J. Trump issued a statement in May, anxiety ran through the historical world. campaign video The “Great American State Fair” with pavilions from all 50 states, the National High School Athletic Meet, and his proposed “National Garden of American Heroes

And more and more state-funded historic sites are coming under political attack. Last month, Republican lawmakers in Alabama threatened: cut off funding for state archives After hosting a lecture on LGBTQ history.

In Texas, the state has historical ties, fell into discord Executive Director JP Bryan Jr., a billionaire in the energy industry, has been filing complaints for months. suit The group claims that its board of directors is illegally recruited by left-wing scholars who seek to distort the authentic history of Texas.

But America 250 Chairman Rosie Rios said politics wasn’t an issue for the federal committee, which included Democrats and Republicans.

The commemoration will be “bipartisan, bipartisan, all-partisan,” she said, adding that “all constructive voices are welcome.”

The confusion of plans is, in a way, a Back to the Future moment. The 200th anniversary ceremony will be held today. fire hydrant And the explosive sales of 1776-themed products are mostly remembered through a faint lens of nostalgia. But the run-up to 1976 also happened during the post-Vietnam War and post-Watergate polarization.

In 1973, Congress dissolved the original Federal Bicentennial Commission following leaked documents suggesting that Richard Nixon was trying to manipulate the commission for political gain. In 1975, The New York Times reported that the agenda for the impending celebration was crowded but “unfocused”.

And the history on display wasn’t just a whitewashed fest. Thanks to groups like African American Bicentennial Corporation and left wing People’s Bicentennial Committee (This interfered with the official commemoration of the Boston Tea Party, and further hung Donald McDonald from the tree of freedom).

Scholars say one of the greatest legacies of the bicentenary was the boom in public interest in history. in her book “History comes alive” Seek a more emotional and personal engagement with the past.

The anniversary has generated massive investment not only in places where Paul Revere rode and Betsy Ross sewed, but also in historical infrastructure. A 1982 survey found that 40% of the approximately 23,000 historic organizations in the United States were founded during the 200th anniversary of the founding of the United States.

It’s unclear if we still have the time or money to do a similar project. And the stumbling block of the Federal Committee, Established Decided by Congress in 2016, but to no avail.

In June 2022, Meta, the only corporate sponsor at the time, withdrew From a $10 million partnership amid concerns over leadership. A few months ago, four female employees of the committee’s support foundation filed a federal lawsuit The group alleged that it fostered a sexist environment while engaging in “nepotism, selfish dealings” and “mismanagement of funds”. (The Foundation denies the allegations, latest annual report an independent investigation found no corroboration for them).

In July 2022, Philadelphia Developer Commission Chair Daniel M. Dilera said: was replaced Former Treasury Secretary Rios of the Obama administration. In March of this year, Mr. Dillella, who remains on the committee, filed a lawsuit himself, alleging that three of his fellow commissioners conspired to oust him.

RiosHe, who has served on the committee since 2018, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But she said the committee is now united and ready for a “new start”.

A new partnership between Nextdoor (who helped coordinate celebrations across the UK celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee) and the YWCAUSA will see the commission deployed at the Brewers-Cubs game. “Invitation from America” The campaign encourages people to share their personal stories and their “hopes and dreams for the future of the country.”

Rios said the event was intentionally Central American, with “baseballs, hot dogs and apple pies.” This was consistent with his desire to expand the scope “from Fairbanks to Philadelphia” and continue to work broadly from the bottom up.

“We want this to be the most comprehensive and inclusive celebration the country has ever seen,” she said.

Meanwhile, other groups are making their own adjustments. In March, about 300 people from 30 states gathered in colonial Williamsburg, 3 days conferenceIn line with the 250th anniversary of communication committeefacilitated communication among colonists who were outraged by British policies.

The rally, which will be repeated in 2024 and 2025, was meant to create a sense of togetherness. But for some, the decentralized and ad-hoc nature of planning is a strength, or at least a useful metaphor.

“Democracy is messy because it’s messy,” said President and CEO Nathaniel Shadley. innovative spaceoperates Boston’s Old South Meeting House and Old State House. “There’s something fitting about unfolding this way. If it’s boxed and top-down, then history feels unreal.”

The following presentations were made at the meeting. research It shows that Americans’ views of history are far apart. less polarized than news reports suggest. And there was plenty of witty teasing among attendees from Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania over the revolution’s greater and better achievements.

Overall, however, the emphasis was less on escalating rhetoric and more on the bones of legislation, funding, and, for states beyond the original thirteen colonies, how to tie the half-centenary to their own histories.

In the midst of a lightning bolt of updates on the situation, Colorado historythe state commission said it hopes to capitalize on the positive energy around Colorado’s 150th anniversary on August 1, 2026.

“Everyone loves Colorado, so it’s reassuring,” he says.

In a later interview, he elaborated. “It’s not that people in Colorado don’t have different opinions,” Hanson said. “But so far we have been able to maintain this more constructive position.”

For some, looking back at the 200th anniversary itself can help connect the past with the present. In Utah, the State History Department has organized projects such as: “Revisiting the People of Utah” Experts and community-based scholars come together to renew 200th birthday Book.

It also hosts “scanning events” across the state where people can bring in letters, scrapbooks, and more. Records of the Chicano Movement photographed in Utah in the 1960s and 70s) will be digitized and added to the state’s online collection.

“We strive to ensure that our communities are recognizable as reflected in their historical society, but that can be very difficult,” said Jennifer Ortiz, Director of History.

But despite the diversity of mainstream institutions, some public historians say it is important to recognize the role of culturally specific institutions.

Noel Trent, President and Chief Executive Officer African American History Museum Residents of Boston and Nantucket said it was important to weave a solid black history through the half-centenary. “But my bigger concern is not just about exhibiting black history in predominantly white spaces, but about continuing to support black museums,” she said.

Many planners are careful to describe the 250th as a “memorial” rather than a celebration. Others disagree.

Wilfred M. McCrae, professor of history at Hillsdale College and member of the Federal Commission, said: “It has to be a celebration. Whether it’s a ceremony, a memorial service, a wake, it’s a celebration of national elation and repentance. It should not be an opportunity for .

However, McRae, author of the textbook, “Land of Hope” He also said there was no need to present a “false front” of unity. “Some of our best looks are a country that defends freedom of dissent and dissent,” he said.

Hanson of History, Colorado also said there should be room for shared joy.

“We’re all talking about bringing inclusive history to life, and this is the greatest opportunity of our generation to really show what it’s like,” he said. . “But I also want to create moments like when the Nuggets won the NBA.”

“I just want to high-five strangers,” he said. “Because we are no strangers. And we are all here for the same reason.”

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