The Mogul Who Buys Black-History Treasures

David Rubenstein tells The Root why he purchased two renowned documents steeped in black history.

David Rubenstein (Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum); 13th Amendment
David Rubenstein (Remy Steinegger/World Economic Forum); 13th Amendment

The Root: What drew you to the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation, and what do they mean to you?

David Rubenstein: These represent critical milestones in our growth and maturation as a nation, and too few people have actually read these documents, let alone taken the time to understand their enormous historical significance.

TR: In your recent interview with Fareed Zakaria, you said that Americans don’t know enough about our history. What should we know more about, and why?

DR: I am trying to make a difference in my own small way by making history as accessible as possible. That’s true with these documents as well as others, such as the copies of Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence I have loaned to the National Archives and the State Department to be displayed.

TR: Given their special historical significance to African Americans, will you ever consider making special plans for their display that would target the black community?

DR: Yes. I expect the permanent home of the 13th Amendment will be in a museum that will appeal to African Americans and all people interested in the history of civil rights in our country.

TR: Why should documents like these — truly national treasures — ever be in private hands?

DR: I don’t have a strong view either way, but they do have to be paid for somehow, and I happened to be able to buy them and make them publicly available. I am also a big supporter and regent of the Smithsonian Institution, where I am on the board, and other essentially public entities such as the Kennedy Center.

TR: Where will the two documents be headed to next? Do you ever plan to display them internationally — as a way of sharing the history of American civil rights and democracy with the world?

DR: My goal is to make them relevant today. To that end, I am considering ways that will enhance their connection to anyone — everywhere — who might be interested in seeing and reading them.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is an author, a columnist, a political analyst for MSNBC and a former investment banker. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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