From the halls of Congress to the community centers in our smallest towns, America was and continues to be built by the participation of its people. Wallace H. Coulter Unity Square, at the heart of NMAH’s second floor transformation, is where history will inspire you to participate—in the museum and in civic life.
The Greensboro Lunch Counter
At the heart of Unity Square sits one of the Museum’s treasured artifacts, the Greensboro lunch counter. Racial segregation was still legal in the United States on February 1, 1960, when four African American college students sat down at this Woolworth counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. When the students politely asked for service at this “whites only” counter, their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their sit-in drew national attention and helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South. A new interactive theater program, “The Nation We Build Together,” will bring the story of the lunch counter to life several times a day.
Unity Square is home to American Experiments, a set of activities that invite you to explore, play, and connect with the people around you. Four experiments bring to life the themes of the surrounding exhibitions—participation, commitment, negotiation, voting, protest, and pluralism. You’ll reflect on the history of the nation we build together and consider your own role in creating the nation of tomorrow.
“American Experiments” was developed by the National Museum of American History in collaboration with the Exploratorium of San Francisco, and was made possible by a gift from the Julie and Greg Flynn Family Fund.
Four historical images from the museum’s collection frame Unity Square—each depicting people coming together to participate in civic activity, from protest to celebration.
First inauguration of Abraham Lincoln
Washington, D.C., March 4, 1861
Photograph by Alexander Gardner; bequest of Montgomery Meigs
Woman’s Suffrage Pickets
Washington, D.C., February 14, 1917
Photograph, gift of Alice Paul Centennial Foundation
World War I Liberty Bond drive
Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation
Deane Works, Holyoke, Massachusetts, April 15, 1918
Camp Lichtman, Virginia
Photograph, courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website