ACLU Marks 90 Years
NEW YORK – In celebration of the American Civil Liberties Union’s 90th anniversary, the ACLU has launched a traveling nationwide exhibit highlighting the organization’s rich history of defending constitutional freedoms. The exhibit will be displayed in a number of states, including Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine, New Jersey, Tennessee, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah as well as Washington, D.C.
“When the ACLU began as a small group of passionate idealists, the Bill of Rights had little practical meaning for ordinary people. Over the last 90 years, we’ve led the way to make the Constitution a living document in the everyday lives of people all across America. The ACLU’s tireless work protecting fundamental freedoms has become so ingrained in our society that it is hard to imagine an America without it,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “We are very excited to share the story of the ACLU’s past 90 years with people from all walks of life. We are confident that after viewing the exhibit, visitors will have a deeper appreciation of the positive impact that the ACLU has had on the personal lives of individuals and on society as a whole.”
The traveling exhibit provides an historical overview of the ACLU’s many monumental achievements since its founding in 1920. The organization was established in response to the notorious Palmer Raids in which the Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, began rounding up and deporting so-called radicals because of their political views without warrants and without regard to constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure.
The exhibit includes the stories of some of the courageous people the ACLU has represented, including John Scopes, a teacher accused of violating a Tennessee state law against the teaching of evolution in the 1920s; Ozzie Powell, one of the “Scottsboro Boys” sentenced to death in Alabama in the 1930s for allegedly raping a white woman, a crime he did not commit; Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple charged in the 1960s with violating the state’s “Racial Integrity Act”; and Diane Schroer, an Army veteran whose job offer by the Library of Congress was rescinded when it learned that Schroer was in the process of changing gender.
The exhibit also highlights the ACLU’s key role in the passage of major pieces of legislation, including the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, guaranteeing eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family responsibilities; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibiting discrimination based on disability in employment, public services, accommodations, transportation and technology; and the periodic reauthorizations of several provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, protecting every American’s constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
Other civil liberties milestones showcased in the exhibit include the ACLU’s work overcoming legal obstacles to marriage for lesbian and gay couples, defending women’s reproductive freedom, upholding free speech and privacy on the Internet and its post-9/11 work battling government secrecy, abuses of power and human rights violations.
“While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to count on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle,” said Susan Herman, President of the ACLU. “The ACLU has always understood that once the government has the power to violate one person's rights, whoever that person is, it can then use that power against everyone. Many of the stories featured in our exhibit vividly illustrate our dedication to defending the civil liberties of everyone, no matter what their political affiliation or popularity.”
The ACLU has evolved over the past nine decades from a small group of idealists committed to protecting Americans’ civil liberties into an organization with more than 500,000 members, hundreds of attorneys – both staff and volunteer – and a presence in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The exhibit showcases how the ACLU has used its unparalleled infrastructure to litigate, educate and advocate at federal, state and local levels.
“The times may change, but the need to vigilantly defend our individual liberties does not,” said Emily Tynes, ACLU Director of Communications. “We hope that people will leave the 90th Anniversary Exhibit with a deeper understanding of the phenomenal scope of the ACLU’s work from 1920 to today and the assurance that we will continue to protect their freedoms for generations to come.”