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THE 1947 - 1949 FREEDOM TRAIN

THE EPILOGUE Part 3 – The Legacy and a Second Freedom Train for America’s Bicentennial

The 1975-76 American Freedom Train has its own unique history and colorful story. These are summarized on dedicated pages on this website. Still, it is certain that the Bicentennial train would not have been realized without the inspiration and successful operation of the "first" Freedom Train of 1947-49.

Managers of business, industry and government in the 1970's included many people who had experienced the first Freedom Train as children. Their numbers also included museum officials and private collectors of important historical materials. Often, railroad and other corporate executives remembered the magical day when their whole school went to see the Declaration of Independence, and experienced the excitement and anticipation of waiting in line alongside the gleaming white train. They remembered the sharply-dressed Marines in dress blue uniform who made sure they saw everything and knew what they were seeing, and they felt once more the profound, perhaps intangible, impact of the Freedom Train and its contents upon their youthful sensibilities of three decades earlier.

They, too, had shared the disillusionments of their time: the 1950's McCarthy era witch hunts, the 1960's assassinations of national leaders, the bloody quagmire of Vietnam, the confusing struggles for racial, ethnic and gender equality that reached into the 1970's, and many of them had encountered the arrogance of power, with its circumvention of law and, ultimately, of the electoral process in Watergate.

The distant memories of a gleaming white train and its message of renewal and National Rededication to the American dream beckoned as an idea worth supporting and repeating.

Perhaps the memory offered a salve for the national conscience at the eve of its Bicentennial – an event that appeared destined to pass without notable celebration or recognition.

Perhaps it was simple nostalgia, a chance for remembrance, or perhaps it offered a catharsis in a more complex age.

But the fact that a Freedom Train had come once before encouraged a renewal in another time, one that desperately needed its message of the worth and dignity of human rights, of freedom of choice and thought, of expression and association, of intellect and innovation, of respect for differences and for the American creed of safeguarding the same rights for others.

So the message of that "original" Freedom Train goes beyond the streamlined white flash of an ALCO PA speeding across America. The train endures through its message of renewal and opportunity, in reminding all of us of the importance of each person's potential and place in history by simply receiving the gift of being born in a free society.

It was revisited to a more skeptical, more cynical America of the 1970's in an unlikely resurrection as a second Freedom Train. The message, the gift, and the legacy of the first Freedom Train - and most of all, its message of renewal, was resurrected for the generation of the Cold War and Watergate aboard the American Freedom Train.

Following the struggles, the sacrifices and the horrors of World War II, the 1947 Freedom Train magnified the historic documents it carried. The words and the hopes of the distant founders of the American Experiment inspired America’s greatest generation to build the modern world. The Freedom Train endures as a message from the past to guide and inspire the future, perpetuating timeless ideals of opportunity, equality, and democracy in a government of laws and not of men. The train’s message sought to infuse these ideals with a sense of meaning and importance for its own time. It was also the hope of the train's founders that the younger generations it inspired would not be called upon to repeat the sacrifices that motivated the train, but that everyone would understand and honor those sacrifices.

That hope abides as an embodiment and living essence of both the 1947 Freedom Train and the 1976 American Freedom Train, and it remains a compass for the American Dream.

Text by Mr. Larry Wines.

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