As the nation prepares to elect its 45th President, an exhibition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Special Collections Library offers a look back at Presidents 1 through 44.
The Presidents in the Library: from Washington to Obama represents every American President through documents, letters, news stories, books, art, and objects that are part of the Library’s special collections.
Only one President, James K. Polk (1845-1849), was a UNC graduate, and the exhibition includes minutes from a Dialectic Society debate in which he was made a member. Presidents William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama are all shown in photographs from visits they made to the UNC campus.
Beyond UNC connections, exhibition visitors will encounter decisive moments in American history, such as documents related to the Nixon Watergate scandal and a press kit from Ronald Reagan’s 1985 summit with Soviet Premier Gorbachev.
Also on view are 11 campaign buttons from the Lew Powell Memorabilia Collection, which the former Charlotte Observer columnist donated to Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection.
However, most items are less official and more personal, said Wilson Library’s Rachel Reynolds, who curated the exhibition.
“Since we are not a Presidential library, much of what we have has come to UNC by sheer luck or as part of other collections,” said Reynolds.
She points to a number of signed letters that alumni or notable Southerners received and kept from Presidents. The exhibition also features personal reflections such a 1925 letter in which the South Carolina-born author Julia Peterkin concedes that President Lincoln “was not as bad a man as my grandmother told me,” and a diary entry by UNC’s first African American female student, Karen Parker, marking the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
“There is a very personal tone here,” said Reynolds. “You get a sense of how important the President is to people—that an ordinary American would care enough about the President to write about him in a diary or a letter to a friend.”
The Presidents in the Library will be on view through January 8, 2017, in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room.
The Presidents in the Library: from Washington to Obama
Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room
Wilson Special Collections Library
August 13, 2016 – January 8, 2017
Free and open to the public
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