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August 17, 2011

Colonial Williamsburg, the Chautauqua Institution, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture Examine Evolution of U.S. Society, Race and the American Identity

Colonial Williamsburg actor-interpreters and historians discuss the controversies and tensions that led to the Civil War and the issues that continue to shape our contemporary society during the program, “The Path to the Civil War,” Aug. 21-27 at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.

In collaboration with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Chautauqua presentations will focus on disunion and slavery as two of the most significant issues leading to the Civil War. Highlights of the week are Colonial Williamsburg actor-interpreters portraying both slaves and founding fathers Washington and Jefferson and a closing panel to discuss legacies and contemporary relevance.

  • Tuesday, Aug. 23 – “Storm on the Horizon: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Question of the Union.” Two of the early presidents reflect on the future of the Republic, the blessings of Union and threats of disunion.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 24 – “Promises of Freedom: From Dunmore’s Proclamation to the Emancipation Proclamation.” From the Revolutionary period through the Civil War, enslaved Americans grasped desperately at any opportunity that offered the hope of ending their bondage. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued in January 1863, is placed in the context of the promises of former proclamations that kindled the hopes of an earlier generation toward developing their own ideal of an American dream. At the conclusion of the scenes, the Civil War era enslaved character speculates on the hope generated by the current proclamation and addresses questions from the audience.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 24- “Wolf by the Ear, Thomas Jefferson and the Pursuit of Freedom.” In late March of 1820, Thomas Jefferson awaits news of whether Missouri will be admitted to the Union as a free state or a slave state, either signaling a move toward eventual abolition of slavery in the United States, or perpetuating the institution into the nation’s future. Jefferson reflects on the years since the Revolution, recalling crucial moments and events when choices regarding slavery had been debated, leading to the current crisis over Missouri.
  • Friday, Aug. 26 – Panel Discussion. Leaders of the collaborating organizations involved in the week’s programming include James Horn, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president, research and historical interpretation and O’Neill Director of the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library; Joan Brown Campbell of the Chautauqua Institution; and Rex Ellis of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

    Additional speakers include: Michael Klarman, professor of Harvard Law School; and Roger Guenveur Smith, international writer, director, actor and educator.

    For more information about hotel package and tickets, contact the Chautauqua Institution at 1-888-835-9140 or visit

    The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the Chautauqua Institution and the National Museum of African American History and Culture are co-sponsoring this event.

    The Chautauqua Institution and Colonial Williamsburg participated previously at Chautauqua on a series of programs on the theme of “The History of Liberty” in 2009.

    Founded in 1874, the Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to lifelong learning. Based on the four pillars of art, education, religion and recreation, Chautauqua’s programs aim to renew the spirit, stimulate the mind, value the arts and promote physical well-being. The Chautauqua Institution is located on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York state.

    The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and presentation of the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia. This town-sized living history museum tells the inspirational stories of our journey to become Americans through programs in the Historic Area and through the award-winning Revolutionary City program. Explore The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg and discover the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum featuring the best in British and American decorative arts from 1670 – 1830 and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum home to the nation’s premier collection of American folk art, comprising more than 5,000 folk art objects made during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Colonial Williamsburg Hotels feature conference spaces and recreation activities from spa and fine dining to world-class golf. Colonial Williamsburg is committed to expanding its thought-provoking programming through education outreach on-site and online. Purchase of Colonial Williamsburg products and services supports the preservation, research and educational programs of the Foundation. Philanthropic support by individuals, corporations, and foundations benefits the educational mission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

    Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

    Media Contact:
    Tom Shrout
    (757) 220-7265

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