Here’s the Latest on America’s 250th Anniversary Celebration Slated for Philly

With a blessing from Congress, USA250 organizers are starting to formally prepare for a blowout. Or something like that.
The African American Museum in Philadelphia, part of the city's Bicentennial legacy, will also play a major role in the city's celebration of America's 250th birthday. The party's organizers celebrated the formal launch of the planning effort with a fundraiser there on Nov. 21. | Photo: J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The African American Museum in Philadelphia, part of the city’s Bicentennial legacy, will play a major role in the city’s celebration of America’s 250th birthday. The party’s organizers celebrated the formal launch of the planning effort with a fundraiser there on Nov. 21. | Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

This week, the effort to throw a big birthday party for the United States when it turns 250 a decade hence entered the formal planning stages.

The party’s backers, USA250, marked the occasion with a fundraiser on Monday at the African-American Museum in Philadelphia, where they celebrated Congress’ approval of a law creating an official commission to oversee planning of the anniversary as well as two locally-based initiatives connected to the event.

The commission is called the United States Semiquincentennial Commission — there’s a tongue-twister for you — and it will have 33 members in all, including 24 appointed by Congress and nine serving ex officio. As of now, six of them have been appointed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Three of them are local and were in attendance or sent representatives for the event: David L. Cohen, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast; USA250 Founding Board Chair Andrew Hohns, managing director at Mariner Investments; and U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who sent his state director, Gwen Camp, in his place.

The other three members are U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Washington-based historian and Lincoln scholar James L. Swanson, and Nevada-based private investor Helen Murren, who was appointed by Congress to serve on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2009.

Like a similar commission formed to plan for the 1976 Bicentennial, this one will collect ideas and make recommendations to Congress for anniversary celebrations across the country, with special emphasis given to locations of historical significance, individuals who have significantly influenced the nation’s development, and ideas that have advanced the cause of human freedom. By law, it will hold its meetings at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Congress passed the legislation setting up the commission and President Barack Obama signed it into law in July.

Meanwhile, USA250 is proceeding with its own plans to use the anniversary to boost the city. Two of its initiatives were also formally launched at Monday’s fundraiser.

One is called “Food250.” Co-chaired by Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation and Ellen Yin and Chef Eli Kulp of High Street Hospitality Group, this project will both celebrate the evolution and dynamism of American cuisine since the country’s founding and examine some of the major issues facing the nation’s food supply in the years after the 250th anniversary, including adequate access to good food for all Americans, the effect of climate change on the nation’s food supply, and the link between food and public health.

“When you look at our food history as a country, in a way we have gone from being the market basket for Europe, to the repository for immigrant foodways from around the world, to the site of ‘progress’ in the form of industrialization of production and distribution, back to the farm-to-table champions of the gastronomy,” said Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation. “Along that path, we’ve switched roles from followers to leaders, becoming global tastemakers.

“That’s not to say that this has been a smooth journey and that everyone has been able to participate equally. But our continued sense of optimism and opportunity, not to mention a good dose of entrepreneurism, sets the U.S. apart, and I think will allow us to lead in the problem-solving that will be necessary for the challenges our food system faces now and in the future.”

The fundraiser offered a taste of things to come in the form of light bites provided by several of the city’s best restaurants: a.kitchen, Fork, High Street on Market, Laurel, Ms. Tootsie’s, Serpico, Vedge, Vernick and Volvér all had wares for the attendees, and Rebel Ventures, a company currently being nurtured by the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative at Penn’s Center for Community Partnerships, rolled out “Rebel Crumbles,” a new healthy snack its student-entrepreneurs plan to distribute in public schools across the city this fall.

The other initiative is a community outreach program focused on promoting a deeper understanding of American history and the diverse peoples who have shaped it. Two of the organizations that will participate in this effort are the Daughters of the American Revolution, which will sponsor local activities across the country, and the African-American Museum in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian affiliate that is itself a legacy of the last time Philadelphia threw a party for the country on its birthday, in 1976.

USA250 Executive Director Jon Grabelle Herrmann explained that one of the goals of the community outreach program locally is to showcase and promote the wealth of historical resources beyond the usual tourist stops that together offer a richer understanding of American history and culture.

“The best birthday present we can give our country is an opportunity to improve on the vision of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,'” said Herrmann.


Sandy Smith Home and Real Estate Editor @MarketStEl
ssmith@phillymag.com