In case you missed it three months ago, the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta came and went.
Yes, that footnote of the origins of American liberty and rights that always seemed to make its way into the U.S. history books was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic on its commemorative date of June 15.
Scheduling conflicts prevented the Charlotte Museum of History from joining the June celebration. But on Sept. 12, the museum staff invited supporters and members of the public to acknowledge what many consider to be the document on which the principles of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are based.
About 30 people attended “Magna Carta Day,” which included museum staff and academics making presentations on the document whose name translates from Latin as “Great Charter.”
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Our liberties and rights were outlined in the Magna Carta.
Kay Peninger, executive director for the Charlotte Museum of History
To add a Charlotte-specific flavor, English-born Central Piedmont Community College history professor Hugh Dussek presented on the issues and events that led to the Magna Carta – King John of England’s agreement to relinquish rights to England’s barons.
“(Magna Carta) ties in with our history here,” said Kay Peninger, the Charlotte Museum of History’s executive director. “Hezekiah Alexander (whose colonial-era stone house is located on Museum property) was involved with activities leading up to the American Revolution.
“British liberty goes back to Magna Carta, which reigned in the power of the absolute monarch, King John. Our liberties and rights were outlined in the Magna Carta.”
Additionally, Charlotte attorney and Dilworth resident Scott Syfert made a presentation about the Magna Carta’s relevance to the mysterious Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, or “MecDec.” Although no known copy exists, many people believe the document was Mecklenburg County’s declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1775 that preceded the 13 colonies’ move to do the same over a year later.
Syfert is a co-founder of the May 20 Society, a small organization that promotes the idea that the MecDec did exist and that Mecklenburg County should be recognized as the first community of people to declare independence from Great Britain. The society was named for the date the MecDec was first read in public.
Understanding that he “had become the world’s leading expert on this obscure episode in local history,” as he put it, Syfert published a book on the topic in 2014, titled “The First American Declaration of Independence.”
Though the existence of MecDec is disputed, Syfert said, “It’s a cool story. It’s Charlotte. Why would you be against it?”
Dilworth resident Evalyn Knox has been a Charlotte Museum of History member for about a year. A self-described history buff, Knox has attended other special events at the museum including “English Teas,” in which participants listen to lectures on English castles and monuments and take part in an English-style lunch.
Knox’s family’s attendance at Magna Carta Day spanned multiple generations. Accompanying her were her daughter, Cate Vaughan of Mooresville, and Vaughan’s grandchildren Jacob and Simi Johnson (ages 14 and 11, respectively), also of Mooresville, who are home-schooled.
“It’s amazing how much (the children) know,” said Knox. “… History is not really being taught in public schools like it should be.”
Magna Carta Day’s program included lectures titled “Rights and Freedoms” in medieval Europe by retired medievalist Lawrence McCrank, “Magna Carta and Liberty” by Peninger and “Medieval Art: Ordering the World” by Hannah Kiefer, who works in the Charlotte Museum of History’s education department.
Kiefer and education specialist Amy Vickers provided activities for a handful of children including a simulation of medieval jousting involving swimming noodles and arts and crafts projects in which children designed paper versions of a coat of arms and stained glass windows.
“I like to learn about where we came from and learning from our mistakes,” said Jacob Johnson.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.