This program transports us to the 1963 centennial celebration of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to explore how Americans made sense of the suffering, loss and liberation that had wracked the United States a century earlier. David W. Blight and Drew Gilpin Faust discuss how four of America’s most incisive writers—including Robert Penn Warren, a white southerner who recanted his support for segregation, and James Baldwin, the searing African-American essayist and activist—explored the gulf between remembrance and reality.
Rarely seen by the public, and considered to be among the three most important documents in the U.S. (along with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights), the Emancipation Proclamation, is on display here for nine days. It is on generous loan from the New York State Archive.
The New-York Historical Society displayed a facsimile of the original hand-written draft of the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln wrote while waiting in the telegraph office of the War Department for favorable news from the war front during June and July of 1862. It was written in pencil and on paper that was just lying about the office. President Lincoln read this document to his Cabinet on September 22, 1862 and told them that he firmly believed in its principles, though he would accept minor changes of wording. Except for some revisions by Secretary of State William H. Seward and the Chief Clerk, the document is otherwise entirely in Lincoln's hand. Lincoln signed the official Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which declared, "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." The proclamation fundamentally transformed the character of the Civil War and announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.