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Keeping Churchill's legacy alive

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 17, 2013: From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.

There are few people in the world who’d fail to recognize these timeless words, but perhaps fewer realize their local significance. Speaking on March 5, 1946, British statesman Winston Churchill delivered that iconic “Iron Curtain” speech no more than two hours away -- at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.

To ensure the survival of his legacy, the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College has expanded its educational outreach, introducing a comprehensive website and several other programs for instructing future generations.

“Churchill lived such a long life and embodies a breadth of life experience,” said Rob Havers, the museum's executive director, in an interview with the Beacon. “His legacy is a way to indicate to St. Louisans that Churchill, global statesman, visited here; we should be proud of that.”

Churchill visited Fulton, in President Harry S Truman’s home state, to deliver his "Sinews of Peace” talk. Foreseeing an inevitable engulfment of Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union's hammer and sickle, Churchill referred to the division of Europe as an "Iron Curtain" and called for a “fraternal association of English-speaking peoples” to prevent a permanent conflict from flaring.

Commemorating the 60th anniversary of Churchill’s speech, the museum opened its interactive displays to students in 2006, enabling them to engage with Churchill's long and colorful career through the prism of history.

Using audio, visual and printed components, students learn about the horrors of life in a trench on the Western Front during World War II, take cover as the sirens wail in the midst of “The Blitz” or sit back and enjoy the ambiance of a cigar-smoked room at one of Churchill’s “Gentleman’s Clubs.”

The museum is also involved with organizing a public-speaking contest for 6th-8th graders from the Parkway School District.

“We are working to reintroduce the idea of a well-delivered, well-constructed speech,” said Havers, commenting on the educational outreach efforts undertaken by the museum. “It’s such a useful tool and Churchill is the perfect guy to learn from.”

The program doesn’t just focus on history, however. It also recognizes the influence Churchill had on shaping on the geography of the modern world and the consequences today.

“The U.S. has been challenged in recent years with its involvement in the Middle East, with conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan,” said Havers. “Trying to pick up on that point it’s important on educating kids on the reasons. Churchill created the Middle East and like he said, ‘You can only teach the origins of the present through a discussion of the past’.”

Plans to commemorate Churchill’s life as well as his Iron Curtain speech go back as far as 1961 with then Westminster College president Robert L.D. Davidson. Learning of the planned demolition of a series of London-based Christopher Wren churches, Davidson proposed to move one to Fulton. St. Mary, Aldermanbury, a church in the heart of London, was selected; a fine representative, it stood with Churchillian resilience through the Great Fire of London and the “Blitz.”

The church, along with the “Breakthrough” sculpture (made from sections of the Berlin Wall) and the museum, make up the National Churchill Museum.

“Whenever you hear of crisis or global disaster, it’s amazing how often we look back at Churchill,” said Havers. “We’re inspired by him, his inspirational resilience, always getting himself back up, persistence, self-belief, very American qualities.”

The St. Louis Public Library will be hosting a live screening of an Iron Curtain documentary on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 5:30 p.m. followed by a discussion panel.

Dale Hart is a Beacon intern.

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