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The Struggle to Realize Enlightenment Ideals

From the early days of the American republic to the present

Hybrid Event
  • Fergus Bordewich
  • ,
  • Maya Kornberg
  • ,
  • Jasleen Singh
  • Angela Tate
Illustration of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr preparing to duel

Despite high-minded Enlightenment rhetoric about equality and liberty at the founding of the United States, it took until the 1960s to enact major civil rights legislation to codify those principles into law. And the fight continues today to resist the erosion of those hard-won rights. 

The Theater and Policy Salon project presents a reading of journalist and playwright Jamie Stiehm’s new play, Across The River, which explores what happened when founding-era visions of equality for all collided with the reality of a brutal social order marked by slavery and patriarchy. Following the play reading, a panel will discuss how that struggle persists today as idealists of varied backgrounds and gender identities try to advance an agenda of an ever-more-inclusive American democracy. The panel features historian and writer Fergus Bordewich, Brennan Center research fellow Maya Kornberg, Brennan Center counsel Jasleen Singh, and National Museum of African American History and Culture curator Angela Tate.

Produced in partnership with the NYU John Brademas Center, with support from the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities


  • Fergus Bordewich, Author, Klan War: Ulysses S. Grant and the Battle to Save Reconstruction; historian
  • Maya Kornberg, Research Fellow, Brennan Center Elections and Government Program
  • Jasleen Singh, Counsel, Brennan Center Democracy Program
  • Angela Tate, Curator of Women’s History, National Museum of African American History and Culture

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