Albany, NY (February 15, 2013)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation will be on display in the War Room of the New York State Capitol on February 15 and 16 in the final stop of the New York State Museum’s traveling exhibition marking the sesquicentennial of the document.
The exhibition, entitled The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, offers an unprecedented display of the only surviving version of the document in Lincoln’s handwriting and will include historical background and interpretation of the document. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862. The final Emancipation Proclamation was issued and took effect on January 1, 1863.
The First Step to Freedom will also include the manuscript of a speech written and delivered in New York City in September 1962 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Proclamation’s centennial.
“Throughout our history, New York has served as a beacon of equality and justice, maintaining our reputation as the progressive capital of the nation,” Governor Cuomo said. “In the 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, we are reminded everyday of how important that those values are to every generation. As New York state government continues to pursue equality and fairness in all its forms, I am honored to have this historic artifact in our Capitol and hope that New Yorkers from across the state will take advantage of the exhibition.”
“America was born with the declaration that all men are created equal,” State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said, “but it took almost 100 years after our nation’s founding — until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union achieved victory and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution — to begin to make that declaration a reality for people of African descent brought here as slaves. And today, we are proud to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this historic document.”
The exhibitionincorporates collections and images from the New York State Library and the New York State Archives. The documents stand as important markers in the path to freedom and equality for African Americans and are among New York State’s greatest treasures. Dr. Khalil Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center, and Harold Holzer, the award-winning Lincoln historian, co-authored the exhibit’s text with Commissioner King.
Lincoln’s handwritten Preliminary Proclamation, issued one hundred fifty years ago in the midst of the Civil War, is the only surviving copy of this document in Lincoln’s own handwriting. Lincoln donated it to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which raffled the document at an Albany Army Relief Association Fair in 1864. It was later purchased by the New York State Legislature. Although Lincoln’s handwritten final Emancipation Proclamation burned in the Chicago fire in 1871, the Preliminary Proclamation survived the State Capitol fire of 1911 and has been preserved by the State Library.
On September 12, 1962, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the speech contained in the exhibition to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission.
The two documents—both in the collections of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education—will go on display for the first time together to mark the 150th anniversary of one of American history’s defining moments. The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation exhibition was designed and developed by the New York State Museum using collections and images from the New York State Library and the New York State Archives. A website providing additional materials supporting the exhibition, including an iBook for download, is available at http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/ep/.
A related exhibit, An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, is open at the New York State Museum in Albany. This 6,500-square-foot exhibition chronicles the pivotal role New York State played in the war and will run through September 22, 2013.