In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was torn: with the War Between the States raging, the clarion call to free the slaves was louder than ever. However, to do so, Lincoln feared a backlash from his own Union forces, who were more concentrated on the rebels then the abolitionists. In the end, the 16th President of the United States of America decided to take the higher moral ground, turning the crisis into a true war for liberty, and this culminated in what is now known as the Emancipation Proclamation.
Fast forward 150 years. Although the original printed document was burnt to ashes in the Great Chicago Fire decades ago, its historical prominence and pride lives on. And so does preliminary versions of the Proclamation. So, for its century-and-a-half birthday, you can go check out the piece of paper that freed millions from bondage until Monday in Harlem.
At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Malcolm X Boulevard, the last remaining copy of the Proclamation hand-written by Lincoln himself will be on display, alongside a preliminary copy of the document that justifies the Constitutional foundation of the decree. In the words of Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Center’s Director, “In 150 years, these documents have not sat next to each other since they were in the presence of President Lincoln.”
You can almost hear the buzzing of history nerds from here. Don’t worry – we’re as excited as you are.
Coincidentally, today happens to be the 150th anniversary of the preliminary copy’s signing. This memorial will be extended throughout the country; after Monday, the Proclamation will be taken on a multi-city tour so every American can get a nice glimpse of one of the most significant documents in our country’s history.
The trail that the Proclamation followed after it was signed was a rough one: Lincoln first donated it to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, then it was raffled off for the war efforts, bought by some obsessive raffle-buying abolitionist, who then sold it to New York State. After all of this, the document was put into the National Archives. And, now, we have what’s left of it in our own backyard. Cherish it.
The Center is open all day today and Monday if you want to check out the coolest historical exhibit in recent memory. Also, since we have your attention, check out the trailer for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Don’t ask questions and thank us later.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 22, 2012