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"The First Step to Freedom": Abraham Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

November 6 - November 7, 2012

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute will present an unprecedented display of the only surviving version of Abraham Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation document in Lincolns handwriting November 6 and 7 in the Museum of Art. The Museum will observe extended hours, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days

The exhibition, The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincolns Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was organized by The New York State Museum, a division of the New York State Education Department, and will include historical background and interpretation of the document.

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 Proclamations centennial.

The Emancipation Proclamation is one of the most important documents in our history, said MWPAI President Anthony Spiridigloizzi, We are honored to be able to present this to our community.

"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.

"Fifty years ago, commemorating the centennial of its signing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. He argued that the Emancipation Proclamation proved government could be a powerful force for social justice, but the promise of equality remained unfulfilled. And today, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary, the Proclamation is an important reminder that America is still a work in progress."

Commissioner King, who co-authored the exhibit text, noted the exhibition incorporates collections and images from the New York State Library and the New York State Archives. He said the documents stand as important markers in the path to freedom and equality for African-Americans and are among New York States greatest treasures.

Lincolns handwritten Preliminary Proclamation, issued 150 years ago in the midst of the Civil War, is the only surviving copy of this document in Lincolns 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 Lincolns 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.

Dr. Khalil Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and Harold Holzer, the award-winning Lincoln historian, co-authored the exhibits text with Commissioner King.

"This 150th anniversary exhibition presents a very special occasion to bear witness to a transformative moment in American history," Dr. Muhammad said.

"This unique freedom document did nothing less than change the Civil War--and change American history," Harold Holzer said. "In a very real way, this one-of-a-kind relic testifies not only to Lincoln's resolve to expand freedom, but New York's resolve to preserve it.

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 Departments Office of Cultural Educationare on display for the first time together to mark the 150th anniversary of one of American historys defining moments. The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincolns 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 with an online exhibition, and providing additional materials supporting the exhibition, including an iBook for download, and education guide is available at http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/ep/.

MWPAIs presentation of The First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincolns Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation is sponsored locally by Trainor Associates and Trainor Digital.

Admission is free and open to the public.

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New York State Council on the Arts with the support of
Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.