The Humanities are a Force for Reflection, Reconciliation and Renewal

Humanities Washington’s Executive Director Julie Ziegler just returned from Birmingham, Alabama, 50 years after the city was the epicenter for the civil rights movement. From Birmingham to Bellingham, Ziegler considers the power of the humanities to confront the hardships and darkness in our past and build understanding, empathy and community in our present.

Julie Ziegler

Julie Ziegler, Humanities Washington executive director

Last week, I was fortunate enough to sit among the wooden pews of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Fifty years ago in September, a bombing in this church killed four young girls and marked a turning point in the United States’ 1960s civil rights movement. Then and now, the church is a beacon of strength, forgiveness and reconciliation.

I was at the church to attend the opening plenary of a national gathering of organizations working to advance the public humanities in the United States and territories. Around every corner in Birmingham, a city so central to our country’s civil rights history, was evidence of the power of the humanities. We saw over and over that even in the face of darkness and hardship, the humanities provide opportunity for reflection and can help to spark reconciliation and renewal.


The 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of a horrific bombing 50 years ago. Now, as before, the church is a beacon of strength and reconciliation.

During my three-day stay, I was reminded often of the importance of the humanities in helping communities learn and come to terms with our complicated and difficult histories. “Peoples’ instinct is to forget,” a panelist at our opening plenary said. “The humanities interpret and record our memories. They uphold our values by preserving our own stories.” In Birmingham, I was moved beyond words by the stories of the many civil rights pioneers whose courage and faith were forces for positive change.

As a friend and supporter of Humanities Washington, I know you, too, value the power of story to engage, to challenge, to inspire and to change. For that reason, I ask you to support our fall fundraising campaign with a contribution today. Humanities Washington’s programs enable all Washingtonians to engage in thoughtful dialogue about the stories that shape our communities, even the most difficult. Our programs enable people to view the world from many angles and through multiple lenses. Through stories we learn how to live, and live together. Through our programs, strangers become neighbors, and neighbors shape communities.

Thank you for your support in helping to continue these important conversations across our state!

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