A pioneer and a pupil honored on Constitution Day

A pioneer and a pupil honored on Constitution Day

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One of the most well-known names in LGBT history was memorialized last week at the National Constitution Center.

Harvey Milk took his place on the National Constitution Center’s American National Tree Sept. 17 as part of NCC’s Constitution Day celebration.

The American National Tree took root in the center when it opened its doors on July 4, 2003. The structure holds 100 biographies and photographs of historical figures whose contributions have helped demonstrate the freedom enshrined in the Constitution. A new individual is inducted each year on Constitution Day.

The NCC partnered with Scholastic Inc. and national nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists and Writers to choose the winner of the M.R. Robinson National Constitution Center American National Tree Award.

Bryan Doerries, associate executive director of programs at Alliance, said the NCC and Scholastic contacted his agency, which runs Scholastic’s Writing Awards, two years ago about launching a student writing contest to help the center choose new figures to include on the tree.

The National Tree Award contest was open to high-school juniors who had been selected for the Gold Key, the top prize in the Writing Awards competition.

The organizations identified six possible figures — Milk, Marian Anderson, Edward R. Murrow, Elijah Lovejoy, Severita Lara and John Peter Zenger — and asked the 300 eligible students to submit a 500-word biographical essay about one of the individuals.

Eight of the 30 applicants chose to write about Milk, and the judging panel chose a piece penned by Sammi Massey, now a senior at Georgetown Preparatory High School in Bethesda, Md., who will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

“We had a bunch of names of people to choose from, and Harvey was one of several nominees,” said Dr. Steve Frank, vice president of education and exhibits at NCC. “Sammi’s essay on him was the most well-written and was very passionate.”

Massey’s biography was affixed with Milk’s picture on the tree, along with a voiceover recording of the essay. The piece was unveiled during a reception last week that drew about 50 people.

Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, was the first openly gay elected official in California and fought tirelessly to expand LGBT rights in the state and the nation.

“The tree is really about Americans who’ve contributed a chapter to the Constitution story,” Frank said. “Certainly, an important part of that story is the expansion of human rights, and Harvey Milk was a champion of gay rights and human rights, so he was a very fitting person.”

There are other LGBT pioneers included on the tree, such as Henry Hay, co-founder of the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, and Ryan White, the American teen whose fight with HIV/AIDS revolutionized the federal funding process for HIV/AIDS causes.

Jen Colletta can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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