Photo courtesy of the Smith-McDowell House Museum.

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“Ideas that Changed America” will be held June 20-23 on the grounds of the Smith-McDowell House Museum in Asheville. This year Buncombe County Chautauqua will feature four visionaries whose ideas helped shape America as we know it today. They include Mark Twain, Frances Perkins, W.E.B. Du Bois and Albert Einstein.

Monday, June 20

Mark Twain often used humor in his lectures and writings to express his ideas: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.” With his wit, he points out the moral deficiencies of human nature, the failings of “civilization,” in a way that makes his audience both laugh and cry.

Tuesday, June 21

Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor during President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, making her the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet. She assumed office in 1933 with a list making clear her ideas: old age pensions, abolition of child labor, a minimum wage, workman’s compensation, and more. Her ideas have shaped our workforce over the past 75 years.

Wednesday, June 22

W.E.B. Du Bois stated, “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line.” The first African-American to earn a Ph.D., he believed that ignorance lay behind the idea of white supremacy. Education of both blacks and whites, he maintained, was the key to promoting racial equality.

Thursday, June 23

Albert Einstein, according to Time magazine, was “the genius among geniuses who discovered, merely by thinking about it, that the universe was not as it seemed.” His ideas lay the foundation for quantum physics, space theory, computer technology and nuclear weapons, yet he is also remembered for his humanitarian ideas about equality and cooperation.

The Chautauqua format will be familiar to those who have attended in the past. Each evening, a scholar dressed in costume will bring the character to life through a first-person monologue.

The audience will then have a chance to question the character, delving more deeply into the issues that have been raised. The replies will be historically authentic, based on research using letters, diaries, journals, and published writings. Finally, the scholar will step out of character to discuss the subject and answer questions from a critical, modern perspective.

Chautauqua 2011 is sponsored by the Friends of Buncombe County Public Libraries, Inc. Please plan to join us each evening under a large tent beside the Smith-McDowell House Museum at 283 Victoria Road. Parking is available on the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College campus next door. A musical program will begin each evening at 7 p.m. followed by the featured program at 7:30 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $4 per night or $10 for the four-night series.

For more information, call Pack Memorial Library at 250-4700 or e-mail library@buncombecounty.org.

Kathleen O'Nan

Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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