Freedom's Sisters: Mary McLeod Bethune


Freedom's Sisters helped shape the civil rights movement.

Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

Much of our national memory of the civil rights movement is embodied by male figureheads whose visibility in boycotts, legal proceedings, and mass demonstrations dominated newspaper and television coverage in the 1950s and ’60s. Missing from that picture is a group of extraordinary women who, while less prominent in the media, shaped much of the spirit and substance of civil rights in America, just as their mothers and grandmothers had done for decades.

Quote from Septima Poinsetta Clark

Freedom’s Sisters, a collaboration between SITES and Cincinnati Museum Center, brings to life 20 African American women, from key 19th-century historical figures to contemporary leaders, who have fought for equality for all Americans. The exhibition is introduced by a video and electronic projections of strong artistic images that will seize visitors’ emotions. Organized around the themes of "Dare to Dream," "Inspire Lives," "Serve the Public," and "Look to the Future," graphically striking interactive stations tell the stories of Harriet Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Septima Poinsette Clark, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, and 13 other women leaders.

Sponsored by Ford Motor Company Fund, Freedom’s Sisters includes educational and community outreach components to facilitate engagement with local audiences. The exhibition will tour eight selected cities after opening at Cincinnati Museum Center in March 2008.

Here are a few comments from people who have already seen this exhibition:

  • "Moving experience. I was in awe!! Thank God for these brave women."
  • "Wonderful and very inspirational. It only takes one person to stand up for justice. The present and future generations can learn that from our past."
  • "This is my 4th visit and I learn something new each time!"


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Freedom's Sisters: Exhibition Specifications

Contents Freestanding units with reproductions of photographs, illustrations, and documents with text; reproductions of artifacts; electronic projector screens with equipment and cabinetry; computer and audio stations, mechanical interactives, photo booth, text and graphic panels

Brochure, family guide, educational and promotional resources, speaker list, bibliography, film guide

Participation Fee

$3,500 per 10-week booking period (includes shipping)

Size 2,500 square feet
Crates 27
Weight 12,000-15,000 lbs, estimated
Category History & Culture
SITES Contacts

Minnie Russell, 202.633.3160 (Scheduling)
Katherine Krile, 202.633.3108 (Content)

Toured Through 2012

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Freedom's Sisters Tour Itinerary

Dates Host Institution Status
3/15/08 9/14/08 Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati, OH Booked
10/20/08 1/4/09 Sacramento Public Library, Sacramento, CA Booked
1/24/09 4/5/09 National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN Booked
4/25/09 7/5/09 Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI Booked
7/25/09 10/4/09 Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, AL Booked
1/23/10 4/4/10 DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago Booked
4/24/10 7/4/10 The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future, Dallas, TX Booked
7/24/10 10/3/10 Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, Atlanta, GA Booked
10/23/10 1/17/11 Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Baltimore, MD Booked
5/21/2011 8/14/2011 Smith-Robertson Museum & Cultural Center, Jackson, MS Booked
9/14/2011 1/8/2012 The Museum of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Center , Los Angeles, CA Reserved
1/28/2012 4/22/2012 Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center Booked
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Freedom's Sisters Related Publications

Freedom's Sisters, exhibition brochure.
Short biographies and memorable quotes from all the inspiring women featured in the exhibition, including Ella Jo Baker, Shirley Chisholm, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman.

Download now. FREE.

Freedom's Sisters Brochure


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Freedom's Sisters Press Release

Feb. 27, 2008

Media only:  Jennifer Schommer, SITES  (202) 633-3121
                  Elizabeth Pierce, CMC  (513) 287-7059
                  Cherrie Woods, NTouch Communications  (248)423-9205, ext. 224                        
Public only:  (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285

Extraordinary African American Women Celebrated in New Interactive Exhibit

It would be difficult to imagine the course of American history without them: Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad; Rosa Parks and her brave refusal in 1955 to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery city bus; Fannie Lou Hamer and her courageous stand at a 1968 political convention.  These stories of courage and commitment are among the many featured in Freedom’s Sisters, a collaboration between the Cincinnati Museum Center, Ford Motor Company and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).  The interactive exhibit showcases 20 extraordinary African American women, inviting visitors to bear witness to some of the most important moments in our nation’s history.

“From Mary McCleod Bethune to Dorothy Height, the stories in Freedom’s Sisters will surely inspire and motivate all Americans, especially younger visitors,” said Jim Vella, Ford Motor Company Fund President. “We are deeply proud to be a part of this important, educational and uplifting exhibition that honors these individuals and the causes that they served.”

The exhibition opens its three-year national tour at the Cincinnati Museum Center March 15. It remains there until Sept. 14, and then travels to eight additional cities, including Memphis, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., Dallas and Detroit. A variety of engaging, educational and community outreach components will facilitate the involvement of local audiences.

“The inspiring stories of these women should be told and told again,” said Cincinnati Museum Center president and CEO Douglass W. McDonald. “Cincinnati Museum Center is honored to create this extraordinary exhibit and can only hope that we can provide an extension to the legacies of these strong, courageous and trailblazing women.”

“These 20 women left not a footnote but a footprint on American history,” said SITES Director Anna R. Cohn. “Many of their stories may not be well known, but their roles and contributions were monumental in shaping our country and its conscience.” The exhibition has been embraced by a prestigious National Committee of Honor. Members of the Freedom's Sisters Committee of Honor include Quincy Jones, Mae Jemison, General Colin Powell, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cathy Hughes, Sheila Johnson, Elizabeth Eckford, Johnetta Cole and a wide range of national dignitaries, reflecting the exhibitions broad appeal.
Organized around four themes – “Dare to Dream,” “Inspire Lives” “Serve the Public” and “Look to the Future”—Freedom’s Sisters is designed especially as an educational tool targeting students. Historical simulations and interactive displays are being set up to drive home messages and meanings central to each woman’s life.  

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is home to the Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children's Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science, the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater and the Cincinnati Historical Society Library. It is a nationally recognized educational and research resource and one of the top cultural attractions in the Midwest. Cincinnati Museum Center serves more than one million visitors annually, reaching out to almost 200,000 young people through hands-on exhibits and programs. As a center for the community, more than 700 events are held in the building each year. Originally built in 1933 as the Union Terminal train station, the building is a national historic landmark and was renovated and reopened as Cincinnati Museum Center in 1990. For information, call (513) 287-7000 or (800)733-2077 or visit

Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services is committed to creating opportunities that promote corporate citizenship, philanthropy, volunteerism and cultural diversity for those who live in the communities where Ford does business. Established in 1949 and made possible by Ford Motor Company profits, Ford Motor Company Fund supports initiatives and institutions that foster innovative education, auto-related safety and American heritage and legacy. National programs include Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies, which provides high school students with academically rigorous 21st-century learning experiences, and Driving Skills for Life, a teen-focused auto safety initiative. The Ford Volunteer Corps, established in 2005, continues Ford's legacy of caring worldwide. Through the Volunteer Corps, salaried employees, union members, retirees and their families participate in a wide range of volunteer projects in their communities. For more information on programs made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services, visit

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Exhibition Specifications

Tour Itinerary

Exhibition Images

Related Websites

Exhibition Prospectus

Related Publications

Press Release

Spanish Gallery Guide

Selected Bibliography


Freedom's sister Ella Baker. Photo by Charmian Reading

If you like this exhibition, you might also like:

Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey (Archives)

William H. Johnson: An American Modern (Archives)

Black Wings: American Dreams of Flight (Archives)

More Exhibitions from SITES


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