Strategy 6 Inspire a Culture of Commitment to American Constitutional Democracy and One Another

Telling Our Nation’s Story

Strategy 6
Inspire a Culture of Commitment to American Constitutional Democracy and One Another

Moton Museum - Moton Community Prayer Breakfast

Recommendation 6.2

To coincide with the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, create a Telling Our Nation’s Story initiative to engage communities throughout the country in direct, open-ended, and inclusive conversations about the complex and always evolving American story. Led by civil society organizations, these conversations will allow participants at all points along the political spectrum to explore both their feelings about and hopes for this country.

Read in the Report

Two narratives of American past

The nation’s polarization extends to how American history is taught.

The nation’s story is generally told in one of two ways: one story is of the nation that invented modern rights-based constitutionalism. The other is of a country founded on enslavement and genocide. Americans face the challenge of melding the glory and the gory of the nation’s past into a shared narrative that does justice both to core democratic values and to our failures to live up to them.

“I think a shared national narrative unites us, but I also think it’s dividing us. You know, we were all longing for the days of Walter Cronkite and it might have seemed pretty good, but if you were African American or gay or a woman, it probably wasn’t all that great. And so now as more groups that have been excluded from the mainstream are included, whether they force their way in or they’re brought in, it changes that shared narrative. And some of that unity that we felt, whether it was artificial or not, is fractured.”
—Lowell, Massachusetts

Working toward a common narrative

In order to create a culture of commitment and a sense of shared values, we must address all aspects of our nation’s history.

The year 2026 — the nation’s 250th anniversary — represents a unique opportunity for conversations about America’s ever-changing story. Uncovering the narratives that unite us, and reckoning with those that divide us, is integral to the practice of democratic citizenship.

These conversations will bridge our divides, create space for collaboration, and encourage the development of new narratives of American history. Whatever narratives come from these conversations, they should be honest about the past: they must demonstrate a respect for the country’s founding and leaders without tipping into idolization. They should acknowledge our faults and take pride in the progress we have made. Working through how we tell ourselves stories about ourselves is a necessary part of renewing our ability to work together for constitutional democracy.

“So, to me, it’s about history. And I think that’s a dimension that’s critical here. We are not telling ourselves the truth about our history.”
—New York, New York
“[In a discussion about Cheapside, a site in Lexington, Kentucky, where enslaved people were bought and sold]: “A lot of groups had the opinion that, you know, rather than totally removing things, you know, from history and whitewashing them so to speak, that rather we prefer to have context provided for those things, and that did end up getting accomplished. I think there’s plaques now downtown that explain the history of Cheapside. So rather than removing it just, you know, providing information of what this was and telling the story accurately so that people feel acknowledged is a big part of it.”
—Lexington, Kentucky

Champion

The Federation of State Humanities Councils is committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

Founded in 1977, the Federation of State Humanities Councils is the national member association of the 55 state and jurisdictional humanities councils. Our purpose is to provide leadership, advocacy, and information to help members advance programs that engage millions of citizens across diverse populations in community and civic life. 

To allow new narratives to develop, we recommend launching a series of community conversations focused on a set of questions that would enable participants to explore their feelings about and hopes for the country, while tackling the full range of stories that make up our complex history. These conversations should be held in partnership with the Federation of State Humanities Councils, which has contacts across all fifty states and various territories.

Since 2015, the Federation of State Humanities Councils has led three major national initiatives that engaged communities across the states and territories in conversations about issues of pressing concern, such as the role that journalism and the humanities play in a democracy.

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.

In order to implement Recommendation 6.2 by 2026, the Commission proposes the following milestones to complete by year-end of:

2020

  • Announce a partnership with the Federation of State and Territorial Humanities Councils and assemble a task force to work with the Commission to confirm the goals and timeline of the initiative and develop themes and questions to guide conversation   

2021

  • Identify and connect with possible funders

2022

  • Identify possible national partners, especially those with state affiliates

2023

  • Engage a project director to administer and oversee funding and grant making; develop a call for proposals and a design for proposal review; and establish a process for evaluation and reporting

2024

  • Run grant-competition and disburse grants

2026

  • Be able to report back on two years of activity across all U.S. states and territories