The American National Tree at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center

From the earliest days in America, words and actions worked together to form this nation—and they continue to shape its future as well as its history today. Nearly two hundred and twenty five years ago, on September 17, 1787, delegates to the Philadelphia Convention signed a pivotal piece of writing that formed the basis of the United States government—the Constitution. Across the nation and in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, each September 17 Constitution Day marks that momentous event.

The American National Tree, a popular exhibit at the Constitution Center, tells the stories of 100 Americans whose actions have helped write the story of the Constitution. On September 17, a new story will be added—and you may be its scholarship-winning author!

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers invites all rising 8th to 12th graders who have earned Gold Keys in The Scholastic Writing Awards to enter the 2014 M.R. Robinson National Constitution Center American National Tree Award. To do so, submit a biographical essay about one of the historically important Americans listed at the bottom of the page.

If your essay is selected,

  • it will be added to the tree on September 17,
  • you will be invited to Philadelphia to see your essay added to the tree, and
  • you will earn a $1,000 scholarship!

To apply for the American National Tree Award, select one of the constitutionally important Americans below and write a 250-500 word biographical essay. Send it no later than July 18, 2014 (or as soon as possible!) to American National Tree Award, The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, 557 Broadway, New York, NY, 10012, or email it to, subject line: American National Tree Award

Have fun, and good luck!


The 2014 American National Tree Nominees

Maya Angelou: The prolific author of the landmark six-volume memoir that begins with I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Angelou was a lifelong advocate for civil rights, and counted Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among her many friends and allies in the fight toward racial equity worldwide. In 2010, President Barack Obama presented Dr. Angelou with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She passed away this spring.

Nellie Bly: Fearless and pioneering as an investigative, undercover journalist, Bly exposed savage inequalities in women’s treatment in an insane asylum, working conditions for female factory workers, and protested in support of women’s suffrage and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.  She also traveled around the world and reported on her journey for The New York World.

Bayard Rustin:  A lifelong activist and pacifist, Bayard Rustin worked behind the scenes and at the forefront of the non-violent civil rights movement in the 1940s until his death in 1987. He helped organize a 1947 Freedom Ride to protest racial segregation on interstate buses. From 1955-68 he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to strengthen the civil rights movement and in 1963 was the chief organizer of the March on Washington. An admitted homosexual, in the 1970s and 80s he championed gay rights and testified on behalf of New York’s gay rights bill. Like Dr. Angelou, Rustin received the Presidential Medal of Freedom—albeit after his death– in 2013.

Edward Schempp: On November 26, 1956, Edward Schemmp’s 16-year-old Ellery staged a protest at his high school. His school required students to read 10 Bible passages each day in homeroom—and state law supported it! Ellery brought in a copy of the Qur’an to read, and was sent to the principal’s office.  Edward and the ACLU sued the school district, saying that the law violated his family’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In 1963, the Supreme Court agreed that public school-sanctioned Bible readings were unconstitutional.

Albert Snyder: The last thing Albert Snyder expected to see at his son Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder’s funeral were protestors. But the Westboro Baptist Church made a practice of picketing military funerals and brought signs stating “God Hates the USA/Thank for 9/11” in line with their belief that God punishes the U.S. for its tolerance of homosexuality within the military. Enraged, Snyder sued the church, saying that their actions caused him severe emotional distress. The MD state court awarded him $5 million, but the Supreme Court found that the protest was protected by the First Amendment.

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