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On Exhibit: Americans with Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. 

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, forbids employers from discriminating against mentally or physically disabled employees. It also instituted accessibility requirements for buildings and public transportation, such as ramps for wheelchairs and posting signs in Braille.

The disability rights movement grew following the successes of the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 1960s.

The movement’s first big success came with the Rehabilitation Act, signed in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits the discrimination of the disabled by any Federal agencies, Federal programs, or Federally contracted employers.

The private sector did not fall under the Rehabilitation Act and was still able to fire (or not hire) employees based solely on their disability. Additionally, many buildings were inaccessible to the disabled, especially those aided by wheelchairs. It soon became clear that a broader law encompassing all employers needed to be passed.

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines “disability” as, having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities.” The law … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Report concerning the death of Abraham Lincoln

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Dr. Charles A. Leale, a doctor and army surgeon in town from New York, listened with rapt attention to the President’s remarks. He and the President crossed paths one more time, although under more somber circumstances. Leale was the first doctor to attend to Lincoln after the President was shot at Ford’s Theatre.

Leale’s report to the Surgeon General of the United States concerning the Lincoln assassination is now on display at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1), 1865. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

Report of Assistant Surgeon Charles A. Leale concerning the death of A. Lincoln (page 1), 1865. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives)

On April 14, 1865, both men attended a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. The play, Leale later noted, “progressed very pleasantly” until half past 10, when “the report of a pistol was distinctly heard” and the whole scene erupted in confusion.

Next, a man brandishing a dagger, later identified as John Wilkes Booth, jumped from the President’s box onto the stage, dislodged himself from the flags in which he had been entangled, and ran. As Booth made his escape, Lincoln slumped in his … [ Read all ]

Unbroken, Part II

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On May 28, 1943, a B-24 airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean leaving only three survivors. The survivors floated on the sea for 46 days with almost no food or fresh water. On the 47th day, they were picked up by Japanese sailors and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

Does that story sound familiar? Chances are you heard it before.

The Army Air Force bomber, nicknamed the Green Hornet, was Louis Zamperini’s. A former Olympian, Zamperini was one of the crew who survived on the raft after their plane went down over the Pacific Ocean. His story has been featured in several books, most famously in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book Unbroken and a major motion picture of the same name, but he was not the alone on the raft. Both pilot Lt. Russell A. Phillips and tailgunner SSgt. Francis P. McNamara survived too.

Unlike Zamperini, however, neither Phillips nor McNamara received much notoriety from the incident. Instead, they have been largely ignored by historians and the public alike, merely a footnote on Zamperini’s biographic odyssey of herculean proportions.

At the time he and his comrades bailed out over the Pacific, Phillips was a 27-year-old first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. A native of Indiana, Phillips held a forestry … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Unbroken

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. 

Certificate (copy) awarding the Purple Heart medal to Louis Zamperini, 10/12/1944. (National Civilian Personnel Records Center, National Archives)

Certificate (copy) awarding the Purple Heart medal to Louis Zamperini, 10/12/1944. (National Archives at St. Louis, National Archives)

On May 28, 1943, Army Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini’s B-24 airplane went down over the Pacific Ocean. Given the size of the Pacific and the distances covered by U.S. bombers, recovering downed aviators in the Pacific Theatre during World War II was difficult, at best.

While some submarines on lifeguard patrols were able to rescue downed aviators, including George H.W. Bush, Zamperini and his crew were not among them.

Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips and Francis “Mac” McNamara, survived the crash only to endure starvation, dehydration, Japanese fighter bombings, and shark attacks. After 33 days at sea, McNamara passed away.

During the 46 days at sea, the men drifted more than 2,000 miles into Japanese-controlled waters. On the 47th day, in sight of land, the Japanese captured Zamperini and Phillips. The two men were eventually separated, but both endured over two years of captivity and torture as prisoners of war before being released at the end of the war in 1945.

Having received no word of Zamperini for a year following the crash, the U.S. Government declared him dead and awarded him the Purple Heart for “wounds … [ Read all ]

Currently on Exhibit: George Washington’s First Annual Message

Continuing our celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the First Congress, the National Archives is displaying George Washington’s first annual address from January 6 to February 4, 2015, in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives in Washington, DC.

This version, from the first Journal of the House of Representatives, shows the final page of George Washington’s annual address (what we now call the State of the Union speech). With this message, delivered on January 8, 1790, Washington established the precedent of delivering a formal address to Congress, thus fulfilling the Constitution’s mandate for the President to  “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

In the message, Washington praised the accomplishments of the First Congress and gave a brief overview of his administration’s agenda. He emphasized the need to provide for the common defense; establish uniform systems of currency, weights, and measures; and promote education.

House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

House Journal of the First Congress, Second Session, showing the final page of President George Washington’s first annual message to Congress, January 8, 1790 (Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, National Archives)

[ Read all ]