My Fourth of July Conversation with Thomas Jefferson

A’Lelia Bundles with Thomas Jefferson re-enactor Steve Edenbo (Credit: Lauren V. Burke)

“As we listen to more voices, we’ll hear a greater harmony. At times we will hear a more complicated dissonance, too. The problem solves itself, however; for when we invite more sources of insight and information into our fold, we will simultaneously increase our ability to understand the conflicts both in our history as well as in our present.”  Steve Edenbo, Thomas Jefferson interpreter, July 8, 2012

One of the delights of the National Archives’s annual Fourth of July celebration is the chance to mingle with the Revolutionary War era re-enactors. Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin. Abigail Adams. Edward “Ned” Hector. John Adams.

Revolutionary War era re-enactors at the National Archives July 4, 2012 (NARA photo)

Each stays in character and is deeply immersed in the biographical knowledge of his or her character. They are so adept at making history come alive that it is easy to be transported to the 18th century. At the same time, we know that out of costume these actors are people equipped with 21st century sensibilities and the advantage of historical context. (more…)

Celebrating the Fourth of July at the National Archives


Fourth of July at the National Archives (File 2011)

What a day! I haven’t come down from the joy of this morning’s Independence Day celebration at the National Archives!

I had a fabulous time last year listening to the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and mingling with Revolutionary War era re-enactors Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Ned Hector, a black Continental Army soldier.

Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps 2012

But this year was over the top! At the invitation of David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, I delivered the keynote address, taking my inspiration from Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 Fourth of July speech while also recounting the role of black Patriots in Revolutionary War.

Riley Temple (Foundation for the National Archives board member), Laura Murphy (descendant of Declaration signer Philip Livingston) and A’Lelia Bundles

The morning was even more special because my friend Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, became the first African American descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence to participate in the reading of the document at the prestigious National Archives ceremony.

I’ve posted lots of photos on my Facebook page. Because several people were kind enough to ask for a copy of my speech, I’m posting what I said about Frederick Douglass’s 1852 Fourth of July speech and what the holiday means to me 160 years later. [Here, also, is a link to the video.]

Honored guests at the 2012 National Archives Fourth of July Celebration


My Grandmother’s Harlem Renaissance Wedding

Mae Walker’s headdress was inspired by the recently opened King Tut tomb

© Whenever I see my grandmother Mae’s 1923 wedding photographs, I can’t help but marvel at the elegance and extravagance. I also can’t resist searching her eyes for clues to the drama I now know was roiling just behind the scrim of the carefully choreographed scenes.

Newspaper headlines from the Pittsburgh Courier –“Heiress Weds ‘Mid Pomp-Splendor”—to the New York World—“Thousands Attend Wedding of Negro Heiress in Harlem”—tell only part of the story.

Mae Walker's 1923 wedding was the social event of the season (

For Harlem’s social event of the season and of the year, there were parties galore, guests from three continents and a groom from a prominent family. There also was a major glitch:  the bride was in love with someone else. (more…)

Happy July 4th: Celebrating ALL of America’s Forefathers and Foremothers

July 4, 2011 Washington, DC

To be in Washington, DC on July 4th–and to be surrounded by the monuments and documents of American government–is to be at the center of the nation’s commemoration of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Today we celebrate with parades and picnics, but 235 years ago the colonists were serious–and not particularly festive–as they presented their grievances against the tyranny of the King of England.

3rd U.S. Infantry “The Old Guard” Fife and Drum at the National Archives, July 4, 2011

I heard the first fireworks in my neighborhood two nights ago and have been eating barbecue and hot dogs all weekend. I love a parade and I admit I am sentimental for the kind of patriotism that celebrates World War II veterans like my dad and embraces recent immigrants who still believe in the American dream.

Young vendors

But to be black and a woman complicates the day. (more…)