Tuesday, June 18, 2002

First lady wants students to hear tales of freedom

By Kristina Goetz kgoetz@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Muhammad Ali greets first lady Laura Bush during groundbreaking ceremonies for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
(AP/Al Behrman photo)
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        It wasn't just star power that first lady Laura Bush added to the groundbreaking Monday of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It was a voice for the ideals the museum and learning center will represent: Education and equal rights for all — buzzwords of Mrs. Bush's tenure as first lady.

        Sitting at a table overlooking the Cincinnati skyline, Mrs. Bush talked about her childhood fascination with the Underground Railroad and what she hopes students will learn.

        “What this museum will teach is really what I've been talking about all along,” Mrs. Bush said, “which is how important it is for leaders and parents and teachers to stand up to talk about how every life, every human, deserves dignity and respect.”

        The five-story, 158,000-square-foot museum is scheduled to open in 2004. It will use interactive exhibits, film and forums to tell stories of freedom and the Underground Railroad.

Mrs. Bush speaks in front of a rendering of the Freedom Center.
(AP/Al Behrman photo)
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        The museum, Mrs. Bush said, will stand as a symbol for the nation, one that exemplifies freedom and its fragility.

        “We know that there is slavery in other parts of the world even as we speak,” she said. “And we need to be very, very vigilant in our country to make sure that we continue to have equality and equal justice and justice under the law.”

        Mrs. Bush said she hopes the little-known stories of courage exhibited by both slaves and abolitionists will be illustrated and preserved.

        “I remember being very fascinated by it myself as a child when ... I envisioned this real underground railroad,” she said of tunnels, hiding rooms, the escaping slaves, the routes guided only by the North Star.

Mrs. Bush holds a battery-powered candle with Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and U.S. Rep. Rob Portman.
(AP/Tom Uhlman photo)
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        “All of those stories are very important for our history, and I think they're important for our children to learn and to know about,” Mrs. Bush said.

        In retrospect, it will give visitors a chance to celebrate the lives of nameless people, of slaves who didn't escape or have anyone to stand up for them, the first lady said.

        “It really is a very important part of our story as Americans,” she said. “And I think since September 11, people are more willing to, or maybe they have more of an ear now for what our stories are. ...

        “We realized how many advantages we have as Americans, how precious our freedoms are. And this just gives us another chance to study and think about those freedoms and how we can defend them.”


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