Countdown to 250th anniversary begins in the US, an effort planners hope can unify a divided country

Jun 28, 2023, 5:10 AM

FILE - The U.S. Flag flies at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 6, 2023. The United States is about t...

FILE - The U.S. Flag flies at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 6, 2023. The United States is about to start the countdown to its 250th anniversary. The buildup begins this July 4 at a Major League Baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs at American Family Field in Milwaukee, where the organization created by Congress to oversee the party will kick off the planning process. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

(AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

It’s three years until the United States celebrates its 250th anniversary, but festivities are already starting.

The anniversary push will formally launch July 4 with an event during a Major League Baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs at American Family Field in Milwaukee. The organization spearheading the celebration, known as America250, will start recruiting people to share their stories of what the country means to them.

The country is headed toward the anniversary date as it remains riven politically, its citizens divided over how to view what beer to drink have been caught up in political fighting.

Before the U.S. reaches its semiquincentennial — try saying that out loud — it will have to survive the 2024 presidential election, which is shaping up to be as divisive as its prior two contests.

Times also were fraught in the run-up to the country’s 1976 bicentennial celebration, which came two years after Richard Nixon resigned his presidency over the Watergate scandal and convulsions over the end of the Vietnam War. It followed a decade that saw the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

But Rosie Rios, the former U.S. treasurer who heads America250, has fond memories of that celebration as an 11-year-old in Northern California. She watched old-fashioned sailing ships gather in Boston and New York harbors on her family’s black-and-white television, and she visited the national Freedom Train exhibit when it stopped in Oakland. And, of course, she remembers the fireworks.

“I couldn’t have been more proud than that evening to be an American, and I want my kids to feel the same way,” Rios said in an interview.

Rios said she hopes the 2026 celebrations have a similar effect, regardless of national fights.

“I feel like we’ll be successful if as many Americans as possible feel like this is the land of opportunity,” Rios said.

The July 4 event will be the formal kickoff for planning for the celebrations. America250, a nonpartisan organization created by Congress in 2016 to mark the anniversary, will oversee that process. It has already enlisted the neighborhood app Nextdoor and the YWCA as partners.

“We certainly have ideas,” Rios said, “but we’d like to hear ideas from students. We’d love to hear ideas from all parts of the country.”

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Countdown to 250th anniversary begins in the US, an effort planners hope can unify a divided country