“Wednesday evening at the White House we unrolled before a gathering of law students a documentary the NEH financed called ‘Freedom Riders’ that has recently won three Emmys. After showing the film about young civil rights pioneers who were beaten and imprisoned in 1961 for standing up to Jim Crow laws in Dixie, the audience was given the chance to interview several who led and participated in the civil disobedience. Diane Nash, the chief organizer of the rides when a student at Fisk University, was asked what she and the others thought they would achieve when they started out. Her response was instructive. She said they really didn’t know. All they did know was that it was the right thing to do.
“I feel a little bit the same way about what Bob Darnton, John Palfrey, Jim Billington and all of you assembled today are so committed to achieving. Despite not knowing exactly what to expect, facilitating this revolutionary advance in the democratization of ideas may be the greatest no-brainer policy option this great center of democracy is confronted with at this fractious time in our politics. Just as we need an infrastructure of roads and bridges, we need an infrastructure of ideas.”
From NEH Chairman Jim Leach’s speech at the October 2011 Plenary Meeting, An Infrastructure of Ideas