Fourth of July 1986: Liberty Weekend Thirty Years Later

Today’s post comes from Reagan Library Education Department staffer Brett Robert.

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan on Governor’s Island July 4, 1986

The Fourth of July is a celebration of the heritage and history of the United States.  While every President honors Independence Day in different ways, one of the grandest celebrations of this anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence took place in 1986 in conjunction with the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.


statue-scaffolding-copyIn 1982 President Reagan appointed Lee Iacocca to head a private commission to spearhead a major renovation of the Statue of Liberty.  The commission hired architects and engineers to assess the state the statue was in and recommend and design a renovation and repair process.  From 1984-1986 the statue was covered by scaffolding as crews worked to restore Lady Liberty to the same glory which had marked her inaugural ceremony on November 1, 1886.

The re-unveiling of the statue was planned as a grand affair.  David Wolper, who had produced Roots in 1977, was hired to produce a ceremony for live television.  Frank Sinatra and Neil Diamond were invited to sing before a crowd including President Reagan and luminaries.  The United States Navy led an International Naval Review with a multinational fleet of war ships and tall ships paying tribute to the famous icon of freedom in New York’s harbor.  At the climactic moment on the night of July 3, 1986 President Reagan delivered the following speech from Governors Island then lit the torch, which is featured in the video.

first page speakes press briefing 2 july 1986

Leading up to Liberty Weekend, the administration had to plan how to transport not only President Reagan and the First Lady, but members of the White House Press Corps and thousands of government officials.  Many of the nation’s military reservists were called up to assist in the festivities fulfilling roles in security, transportation of dignitaries, logistics, and other capacities.  In addition to the years of work and planning on the statue itself by the commission, various agencies within the executive branch worked together with each other and state and local agencies to pull off a large scale celebration the likes of which have rarely been seen.  The transcript of  this press briefing from the day before Liberty Weekend began gives an idea not only of the scale of the operation, but also of the rapport and humor between White House acting Press Secretary Larry Speakes and the White House press corps: 2 July 1986 Speakes Press Briefing.

When it came time for the actual ceremonies to begin, there were some complaints about the long waits associated with a live television pageant and the weather, but overall the even left many participants awed by its scale.  Beyond that, the Liberty Weekend Independence Day celebration got the nation talking about the Fourth of July and the history of the United States.  Articles in newspapers coast-to-coast, from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times, ran detailing the pageantry of the ceremonies, the tremendous fireworks displays, and the rare swearing-in of new United States citizens by the Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Photo courtesy of Cdr. Rene Robert, USN (Ret.)

“President Reagan rode the USS Iowa(BB61) down the Hudson on the fourth and as you can imagine it was full of dignitaries.  The fireworks were the most spectacular I have ever seen.  I had duty that night on board the USS Nashville.  It was docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard which had the view of the World Trade Center..  Fireworks were launched from both sides of Manhattan.  The effect was as if the island was under attack..   After the finale, thousands of pleasure boats departed for home after a hot day of boating pleasures.” writes Commander Rene Robert, USN (Ret.)

For many Americans it was a memorable Fourth of July, and we hope that everyone enjoys a safe and happy Independence Day today, 30 years later!

One thought on “Fourth of July 1986: Liberty Weekend Thirty Years Later

  1. I was stationed on Governors Island with the Coast Guard during that celebration event. It was a grand time, the security was a bit tight, but it was exciting.

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