Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

Back then, the Emancipation Proclamation was just one of the things I've read in history textbooks, I never knew there was a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation before that.  When I learned that the New York Public Library was offering a free four-day exhibit of the document, I readily signed up.

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, and exactly 150 years later, I was viewing the document at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, upper Manhattan. The exhibit featured both the handwritten draft of President Abraham Lincoln, and the Official document from the National Archives in Washington, DC, which was transcribed from the draft by a professional scribe and signed by the President.  The exhibit also included a few pages of the draft of the speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., which he gave a few days before the centenary of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

The handwritten draft I was viewing was probably written by President Lincoln months before, since in July 1862, he read his "preliminary proclamation" to his Cabinet.  The President then decided to wait for a Union military victory to issue it and on September 22, 1862, following the victory at Antietam, he signed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  The document formally alerted the Confederacy of his intention to free all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states. One hundred days later, on January 1, 1963, President Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation.  

To get to the exhibit, I took the 2 train to 135th Street in Harlem. Coming up from the subway I saw a familiar structure. It's the Harlem Hospital Center where my sister has worked for the past 30 years.

The Schomburg Center is right across the hospital. When our appointed time came, we were first led to a room where we watched a clip about the history of slavery in the US and what happened after the emancipation.

After the video clip, we were led to the second floor where the exhibit was held.

The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, states as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ..."

However, the above statement did not hold true for people of African descent who were brought to America as enslaved laborers during the colonial period. The boards that people were looking at in the above pic further explained the history and, ultimately, emancipation of slavery in the country. 

As the country developed, more and more slaves were needed to clear the lands and produce crop. The first board expounded on the history of slavery in the country while the second one contained a write-up about the resistance from the slaves as most of them refused to accept their circumstances, and some even tried to escape.

Here's a close-up of the right-most pic on the second column.

The next two write-ups dealt on the civil war and emancipation of the slaves. The Sectional Conflict board expounded on the conflict between the northern states and the southern states who needed slaves for their cotton plantations.  Shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected, the southern states began seceding from the Union as Lincoln was determined to abolish slavery, and thus the Civil War began.

After issuing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln made good his word and on New Year's Day 1863, he signed the Final Emancipation Proclamation.  As further explained on the Emancipation board, some of the freed slaves enrolled in the military service, and thus helped win the war for the Union. It also forced the question of citizenship for blacks in the national agenda, which lead to the 13th amendment to the Constitution.

The next two boards were End of the War and Reconstruction: Presidential and Congressional.  After Lincoln was re-elected in 1864, he made sure his party called on Congress to secure the formal abolition of slavery (leading to the ratification of the 13th amendment), The war dragged on until General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 9, 1865.  Six days later, President Lincoln was assassinated.  The aftermath of the war and beginning of emancipation lead to turmoil in the succeeding years as slaves began to demand equality, especially the right to vote and equal access to schools, transportation and other public accommodations.

The other board, Reconstruction, focused on the conflict of President Andrew Johnson with a Republican-controlled Congress over what a "reconstituted" South should look like.  Between 1866 and 1869, Congress passed civil rights laws and the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.

Then came Reconstruction and Education,  The Reconstruction board expounded on the role of the churches in the black community, as well as blacks being voted into public office. The Education board stressed the importance of the slaves knowing how to read and write as most of them were illiterate.  Over 3,000 schools were established in the South to accommodate the freed slaves.

But it wasn't smooth sailing after the Reconstruction. Blacks faced unemployment inequities and housing segregation as civil liberties eroded in the succeeding years. In 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in New York, as well as several other organizations catering to the improvement of the black community.

After World War II many African-Americans, who served during the war, began to seek courses of action against racial discrimination and injustice in the country.  In 1963, during the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the importance of the Proclamation and that it proved that government could be a powerful force for social justice. 

Part of the exhibit were some pages of the draft of the speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. which he gave in September 1963.

The last board talked about Looking Toward the Future, and expounded about the achievements of modern civil rights, how the African-American community won back the rights promised to them - the vote, equal protection under the law, and the eradication of segregation.
"Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact." ~ Vice President Lyndon Johnson, May 1961

President Lincoln's handwritten draft of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is the only surviving copy of the document in the President’s hand An excerpt from the brochure handed out to us ..
In 1864, Lincoln donated the document to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which raffled it off at the Albany Relief Bazaar to held raise money for the Union war effort.  Abolitionist Gerrit Smith won the raffle after buying 1000 tickets at $1 apiece. Smith then sold the document to the New York State Legislature, with funds going to the Sanitary Commission.  The legislature, in turn, deposited the document in the New York State Library, where it remains today.
The documents were placed in a temperature controlled box but you can read each page.

I took pictures of each page but they are not as clear.  I'll post my pics here but will give you a better link so you can read the document in President Lincoln's own handwriting.

Read the text on this link 

Page 2 ..

Page 3 .. 

Page 4 .. 

You can view the transcription of the document on this link.

Here's the Official Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from the National Archives ..

Lots of lessons learned on this exhibit, I'm so glad I came. I hope this country produces another Abraham Lincoln, such a great, great man.  After the documents is this simple picture of President Lincoln, taken just a few days before his assasination.

While this picture hang on the wall near the documents.

Coming down from the exhibit, I spied this African tribal mask near the lobby of the building.

I then went down the subway to go back to midtown. At the station is the tile mosaic Harlem Timeline, a tribute to famous African-Americans and Harlem luminaries. Here are a couple of pics.

After the exhibit, I dropped by for a walk in Central Park. It was the first day of autumn and the air was a little nippy. Near the North Meadow, some of the leaves of the trees were already changing color. 

I welcome it, though, I love the changing of the seasons and consider myself lucky to experience it here in New York. And I think of the enslaved laborers of centuries ago. Somehow, they might have felt lucky, too, seeing the seasons change. I would like to think the changing of the seasons for them meant hope for a better future for their children.


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