On September 7, 1947, the Freedom Train left Philadelphia to begin its 48-state tour. The trip would take the train across 37,000 miles of track and stop in 326 cities in just 16 months. A United States Marine Honor Guard detachment was tasked with protecting the locomotive and its contents…
The Freedom Train just happened to be carrying the most important documents of in America’s history:
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Bill of Rights
- One of the thirteen original copies of the Constitution
- The Emancipation Proclamation
- The Gettysburg Address
- The original flag from Iwo Jima
- The German & Japanese surrender documents that ended World War II
- An original Magna Carta – written in the year 1215
By the time the tour ended in Washington, D.C. on January 22, 1949, over 3 million people had climbed aboard to see these national treasures.
An assistant director at the Department of Justice realized that the majority of Americans would never have an opportunity to see these documents where they are normally housed and suggested finding a way to get the documents to the American public. President Harry Truman was delighted by the idea of the Freedom Train and sincerely hoped that the exhibit would serve as a reminder that freedom cannot be taken for granted.
(Because of a segregation issue in Memphis and Birmingham – the issue being that the American Heritage Foundation,who was hosting the tour, would not recognize the cities’ imposed separate treatment of blacks and whites – the two southern cities were removed from the Freedom Train’s itinerary.)
In 1997, surviving members of the Marine Detachment responsible for securing the train and its contents during its run in 1947 and 1948 gathered in Quantico, Virginia and were treated to dinner on board the Freedom Train. Later that evening, they rode the train’s original route back to Philadelphia.
(It’s Memorial Day weekend. Visit a national cemetery, a memorial wall, or simply donate to the VFW and proudly wear your buddy poppy. Stay safe and respectfully remember those who gave their lives to ensure your freedom.)