2011 Liberty Bell Award Recipient
Dr. Thomas Hanchett
Dr. Thomas Hanchett has curated numerous historical exhibits and published many books and articles about Charlotte's history. His most critical and acclaimed achievement, however, involved the intersection of law and history. In 2004, he curated the COURAGE exhibit commemorating the anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. COURAGE focused on the Carolinas roots of that case - which involved a community of courageous South Carolina plaintiffs as well as Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John J. Parker, a Union County native.
The exhibit ran at the Levine Museum of the New South for seven months in 2004 before touring at museums in Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles and New York. In January 2011, COURAGE re-opened at the Levine Museum for another one-year run. COURAGE has won top national awards from the American association for State and Local History and the American Association of Museums and was honored at a White House ceremony by First Lady Laura Bush. Dr. Hanchett's role in researching and curating the COURAGE exhibit helped focus this community's attention on the individual and collective courage that marshaled itself in five states across this country, including Claredon County, South Carolina. That case reversed our country's history of lawful racial segregation in schools.
Dr. Hanchett's COURAGE presentation has provided a truly human window into one of the most important examples in our country's history of the power of the court system to change our society in an orderly way. For that reason alone, Dr. Hanchett is a worthy recipient of the Liberty Bell Award. There is no question that Dr. Hanchett meets the five criteria for the Liberty Bell Award. He has promoted a better understanding of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He has encouraged increased respect for law and the courts. He has fostered a better understanding and appreciation of the rule of law, especially in highlighting and explaining a Supreme Court decision that was bitterly opposed by many throughout the country and certainly throughout our region.
The COURAGE exhibit brings these issues home to individuals in our community, including those who were focused on them at the time and those who have learned about them since, thereby stimulating a deeper sense of individual responsibility among those citizens. For all the reasons above, his work has contributed to the effective functioning of our institutions of government.