Sam Duffy (center) at the National Constitution Center, with his dad Christopher (left) and the Alliance’s Senior Manager of National Programs, Scott Larner

2013 Scholastic Awards winner Sam Duffy (center) at the National Constitution Center, with his dad Christopher (left) and the Alliance’s Senior Manager of National Programs, Scott Larner

In 1870, a distinguished gentleman from Mississippi was duly elected to the US Senate. But when he presented his credentials in Washington, he was less than warmly welcomed. Why? Less than 5 years after the end of the Civil War, Hiram Rhodes Revels was the 1st African-American to serve in this post!

On September 17, 2013, Revels made history again by becoming a high-tech “leaf” on National Constitution Center’s popular exhibit, The American National Tree. The 15-year-old young man who wrote an essay to honor him, Sam Duffy (2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gold Key winner), chose him precisely because of the obstacles Revels faced:

“It is fitting that Senator Revels is recognized here at the U.S. Constitution Center, because when Hiram Revels was being proposed as the first African American senator of the United States, his opponents challenged his capacity by making constitutional arguments about his citizenship because of his race. I was born in New York City in 1998, and I have boundless freedoms as a native-born American citizen, but when my great uncle John Kim was a graduate student in Missouri in the 1950s, he was not allowed to go into restaurants, hotels and bathrooms because he was not white.”

Sam earned the M.R. Robinson National Constitution Center American National Tree Award for his biographical essay about Hiram Rhodes Revels, a portion of which will appear on the tree in perpetuity. The exhibit was unveiled as part of the festivities for National Constitution Day held at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA.

The Award, which is open to all Scholastic Gold Key winners in grades 8 to 11, also carries with it a $1,000 scholarship. But for Sam, the most thrilling part of earning this Award was the opportunity to meet and talk to another outstanding leader: Rep. John Lewis.

“Congressman Lewis, a great civil rights hero of mine, told me a fantastic story,” Sam says.

When he was a little boy, about 7, he knew he wanted to be a minister. So, in rural Alabama, he would play “church” and give sermons to his family’s chickens.

“He said that the chickens listened better than his current fellow congressman,” Sam added. You can read Congressman Lewis’ account of his time in the civil rights movement in the amazing graphic novel, March. The day had deep meaning for Sam, who shared these words at the induction ceremony before reading his award-winning visitors:

“The difficult work of those who have fought for civil rights by protesting actively and by working hard and being excellent at what they do—like Senator Revels and Representative Lewis—have helped all Americans today. Each of us lays claim to their important legacy.”

Check out Sam’s essay here!

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