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The First Step to Freedom

The First Step to Freedom

Posted: October 1, 2012

The traveling exhibition The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation comes to Buffalo State’s Burchfield Penney Art Center October 5 and 6.

The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, issued 150 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.

To mark the sesquicentennial of the proclamation, the New York State Museum has organized an exhibition that is traveling to eight cities across the state this fall, beginning September 21 with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City and ending at the New York State Museum in Albany November 9-10.

First Step to Freedom features historical background and interpretation of the proclamation. It also includes the manuscript of a speech the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote and delivered in New York City in September 1962 for the proclamation’s centennial.

The two documents, both in the collections of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education, will be displayed for the first time together to mark the 150th anniversary of one of American history’s defining moments. The First Step to Freedom 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.

State Education Commissioner John B. King co-authored the exhibit text with Khalil Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Harold Holzer, an award-winning Lincoln historian.

King noted that the documents stand as important markers in the path to freedom and equality for African-Americans and are among the state’s greatest treasures.

 “America was born with the declaration that all men are created equal,” King 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.”

The Burchfield Penney Art Center hours are 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. October 5 and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. October 6. Admission to the exhibition is free.

Learn more about the exhibition at /.

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